In this week’s address, President Obama says that before Congress leaves for vacation, they should extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million hardworking Americans who will lose this lifeline at the end of the year.
I’ve just been asked this:
Steve – I’m curious as to your thoughts on Nelson Mandela, a modern-day Lincoln, who freed a lot more folks without a full blown war. Like Lincoln, flawed, but as Lincoln promised before his assassination, no hatred and no recriminations for losing 27 years in a prison on a bogus charge.
My answer is: kind of mixed. I mean, personally, one can’t help but admire him: he was determined, courageous, and fundamentally principled even where those principles (in my opinion, of course) were misguided. The comparison to Lincoln, however, is misplaced: Lincoln’s task was the destruction of an entire ruling class; Mandela deliberately chose not to destroy the ruling class, but rather to replace elements of it while keeping it in power. It would have been a good analogy to Lincoln if Lincoln had seen his task as making sure there were plenty of black slave owners, instead of (after 1862 at any rate) the ending of the slave holding system. (For the record, the comparison isn’t fair to either of them; they were working under such drastically different conditions that no comparison can reasonably apply.)
Mandela was a profoundly contradictory individual: on the one hand, deeply committed to equality and willing to risk his life for it; on the other, a loyal servant of the system that prevents equality. It’s easy to say, “Oh, yeah, well, so he wasn’t radical enough for you, he was still a great man and helped move things forward.” To which I reply, yes, he was a great man; but if you look at what can only be called the revolutionary situation at the point the ANC came to power–a situation he worked very hard to limit and to direct into channels safe for capitalism–it’s hard to simply say he “moved things forward.”
The outpouring of praise from world leaders is not, I think, just a matter of jumping on the bandwagon because someone popular has died; I think they also recognize that Mendela played a huge role in preserving capitalism in South Africa. You see his handiwork both in the improved conditions of many South Africans, and in the mass murder of striking platinum miners a couple of years ago.
ETA: The World Socialist Web Site has a strong article on Mandela here.
Economic Mobility: On Wednesday, the President spoke about the growing inequality and lack of upward mobility in the United States. “The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough,” the President said.
But the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a decent education or health care, or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us and it should compel us to action. We are a better country than this.
The President called reversing this lack of upward mobility the defining challenge of our time and said he is driven to expanding opportunity to ensure that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead. Click here to read his full remarks.
The passing of Nelson Mandela: Thursday evening President Obama delivered a statement on the passing of former South African President and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again,” the President said. “So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.”
White House Youth Summit: The White House held a Youth Summit on Wednesday, where youth leaders from across the country gathered to discuss issues important to their generation, including the Affordable Care Act. They participated in panels and breakout workshops with administration officials, and even had a surprise drop by from the President.
Since his first full day in office, President Obama has prioritized making government more open and accountable and has taken substantial steps to increase citizen participation, collaboration, and transparency in government. Today, the Obama Administration released the second U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, announcing 23 new or expanded open-government commitments that will advance these efforts even further.
In September 2010, President Obama challenged members of the United Nations General Assembly to work together to make all governments more open and accountable to their people. To meet that challenge, in July 2011, President Obama joined the leaders of seven other nations in announcing the launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) – a global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance. In two short years, the OGP has grown from eight to more than 60 member-nations that have collectively made more than 1,000 commitments to improve the governance of more than two billion people around the globe.
Then, in September 2011, the United States released its first Open Government National Action Plan, setting a series of ambitious goals to create a more open government. The United States has continued to implement and improve upon the open-government commitments set forth in the first Plan, along with many more efforts underway across government, including implementing individual Federal agency Open Government Plans. The second Plan builds on these efforts, in part through a series of key commitments highlighted in a preview report issued by the White House in October 2013, in conjunction with the Open Government Partnership Annual Summit in London.
The National Christmas Tree is illuminated during the lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington D.C., Dec. 1, 2011. The White House is visible in the background. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
The White House is officially bedecked with cheer for the holiday season, which means it’s time for another special tradition: the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.
This evening, President Obama, the First Lady and their family will participate in the 91st annual holiday tree lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in President’s Park, just outside the White House gates.
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Marian Robinson participate in the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Hosted by Emmy Award-winning actress Jane Lynch, this year’s National Christmas Tree Lighting features a talented line-up of performers including: The Avett Brothers, Joshua Bell, Mariah Carey, Renée Fleming, Forte, Aretha Franklin, Janelle Monáe, Prince Royce, Arturo Sandoval, Train, and Nolan Williams, Jr. and Voices of Inspiration.
Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This week, the President spoke on the importance of addressing economic mobility and supporting implementation of the Affordable Care Act, visited fasting immigration reform activists, marked World AIDS Day, celebrated Hanukkah, and visited a local bookstore for Small Business Saturday. That's November 29th to December 5th or, "Olde English."
With solid job growth in November – in addition to strong data on manufacturing activity and auto sales – it is clear that the recovery continues to gain traction. Today’s report was yet another reminder of the resilience of America’s private sector following the disruptive government shutdown and debt limit brinksmanship in the first half of October. Nevertheless, today’s jobs numbers show that too many Americans who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer are still struggling to find jobs. That is why the President is calling on Congress to pass the extension of emergency unemployment insurance before it expires at the end of the year, just like they have always done when long-term unemployment remains elevated. The President also continues to work to increase overall growth while ensuring that growth is shared broadly in the form of higher wages and more mobility, which is why he is fighting for a minimum wage increase and expansion of educational opportunities.
FIVE KEY POINTS IN TODAY’S REPORT FROM THE BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS
1. America’s resilient businesses have added jobs for 45 consecutive months, with private sector employment increasing by more than 8 million over that period. Today we learned that total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 203,000 in November, with 196,000 of that increase in the private sector. Private sector job growth was revised up for September (to 168,000) and October (to 214,000) so that over the last three months, private employment has risen by an average of 193,000 per month.
This afternoon, from the White House Briefing Room, President Obama delivered a statement on the passing of former South African President and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, calling him "a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice."
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the passing of former South African President Nelson Mandela, in the James S. Brady Briefing Room of the White House, Dec. 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
"We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again," the President said. "So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice."
Our nation's immigration system is broken – and fixing it is an economic, national security, and moral imperative. That’s why President Obama is deeply committed to working to pass a common sense, comprehensive set of reforms that ensures everyone plays by the same rules. And we want to answer your questions about the issue.
On Wednesday, December 11th, Vice President Biden and Cecilia Muñoz, the President’s Domestic Policy Advisor, are sitting down to answer your questions about immigration reform. During the conversation hosted by Bing and Skype, the Vice President and Cecilia will speak with folks from around the country via live Skype Video Call, answer questions submitted through Skype Video and from social media.
What are your questions about immigration reform? Ask a question by Skype Video Message now and join the conversation on Twitter with #AskTheWhiteHouse, then be sure to tune in live on Wednesday, December 11th at 3:45 p.m. ET at Bing.com/WhiteHouse and WhiteHouse.gov/live.
- Learn about the President's Plan to create an immigration system for the 21st century
- Get the latest from the Office of the Vice President and follow @VP on Twitter
- Follow Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, on Twitter @Cecilia44
First Lady Michelle Obama and children of military families participate in a craft project in the State Dining Room during the White House holiday press preview, Dec. 4, 2013. Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses helps children decorate Springerle cookie ornaments. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)
Today, First Lady Michelle Obama previewed the 2013 White House holiday décor to a crowd of military families who were the first of more than 70,000 anticipated visitors this holiday season. Mrs. Obama announced this year's theme, Gather Around: Stories of the Season, a celebration of the stories and traditions that bring us together this special time of year. “Our goal is for every room and every tree to tell a story about who we are and how we gather around one another to mark the holidays,” she said. The custom of selecting an official holiday theme began in the 1960s when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy created a nutcracker-themed Christmas for her daughter Caroline.
The 2013 décor embraces beloved White House traditions. By using thoughtful hand-made volunteer crafts and recycled classic pieces, the Gather Around decorations and 24 trees throughout the residence all tell a story. Special art displays and Christmas trees made from repurposed books help this year’s theme come alive. In total, more than 450 repurposed books were used as part of the holiday décor (they will be donated to a local school’s book drive following the holiday season). Today, military children that attended the event had the opportunity to make crafts including – a fruit wreath and a Bo-quet paper poinsettia.
This year, two of the rooms honor our military families, a tradition started by Mrs. Obama, whose Joining Forces initiative seeks to honor and support those who sacrifice so much for our freedom.
“When visitors arrive, the very first thing they’ll see is a tree decorated to pay tribute to our Armed Forces," she said. "This tree, graced with special Gold Star ornaments, tells the story of some of our greatest heroes: Those who gave their lives for our country. And any Gold Star family who visits the White House can create their own ornament to honor their loved one.”
The Blue Room also honors our military families. It holds the Official White House Christmas Tree, presented from the National Christmas Tree Association standing at 18 1⁄2 feet high and nearly 11 feet wide. According to the First Lady, the Blue Room tree is “dedicated to the idea of gathering around our military. The tree in that room is decorated with holiday greeting cards drawn by military children from bases all across the country as a way to celebrate their parents’ service.”
First Lady Michelle Obama asks us all to “find a way to honor these great Americans, not just during the holidays, but every day. And let us never forget the debt that we owe these men and women and their amazing families.” (You can share your message of thanks through the USO here)
Ed. note: Today at 4:10 ET, tune in to whitehouse.gov/live to see President Obama deliver remarks at a White House Hanukkah Reception
Among the gifts from heads of state that are in the holdings of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is a menorah presented to President Truman by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. The menorah dates back to at least 1767, when it was donated to a synagogue in Buergel, Germany.
The menorah was used in the synagogue until 1913, when it was found broken in pieces. A man by the name of Siegfried Guggenheim asked for the broken pieces and provided a replacement. The Guggenheim family restored the old menorah for their personal use, and brought it to the United States when they immigrated in the 1930s. Eventually, the menorah was acquired by the Jewish Museum in New York.
When Prime Minister Ben-Gurion visited the United States in 1951, he searched for a suitable gift to give to Harry S. Truman in light of the President’s recognition and support of the State of Israel. The Jewish Museum suggested the menorah, and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion presented it to Truman on his birthday, May 8, 1951.
In 1979, Jimmy Carter participated in lighting a Hanukkah menorah on the Ellipse, just south of the White House. Each President since then has commemorated Hanukkah at the White House. The ceremonies have ranged from small presentations in the Oval Office to large parties with the First Family, but they have all shared the common element of a Hanukkah menorah.
“You have stage IV cancer”.
“Well, how many stages are there? Five, Six, Ten?”
“There's only four”.
Two months after proposing to my wife and just three months before my 36th birthday, those were the first words spoken to me by my oncologist.
A check-up with my family doctor only days before spawned a whirlwind of appointments, scans, and tests. I sat, listening in awe, trying to wrap my head around the reality of balancing fear and uncertainty with wanting to fight, but not really knowing how. I learned that I was now a stage IV, metastatic colorectal cancer patient. A cancer that usually afflicts those 65 and older wasn’t just inside my body, it was growing and making its way through my body, spreading from my colon to a tumor in my liver and possibly a lesion on my lungs.
I was otherwise healthy my whole life – 35 years old, an athlete into college, professionally doing important work I’d only dreamed of, and finally about to be married and start my own family. Fighting to survive a catastrophic disease was NOT part my plans.
Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to have insurance through my employer and my cancer was treatable and curable they said. Thankfully, because I had insurance, they said, if I gave them the next year for treatment, they’d give me back the rest of my life.
But imagine if I didn’t have access to health insurance through my job. Until that week, just 16 months ago, I could have made the case that I almost didn’t “need” to spend money on health insurance. Technically, with only yearly check-ups and mostly needing only over-the-counter medicines, I could have afforded to pay for my healthcare needs myself.
The United States economy continues to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and while substantial progress has been made, more work remains to boost economic growth and speed job creation. Despite ten consecutive quarters of GDP growth and 7.8 million private sector jobs added since early 2010, the unemployment rate is unacceptably high at 7.3 percent, and far too many families are still struggling to regain the foothold they had prior to the crisis.
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program authorized by Congress in 2008 has provided crucial support to the economy and to millions of Americans who lost jobs through no fault of their own. Under current law, EUC will end on December 28, 2013.
This report argues that allowing EUC to expire would be harmful to millions of workers and their families, counterproductive to the economic recovery, and unprecedented in the context of previous extensions to earlier unemployment insurance programs.
Since their inception in 2008, extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits have provided critical support to millions of workers and their families:
- Nearly 24 million workers have received extended UI benefits
- Recipients are a diverse group: roughly half have completed at least some college, including 4.8 million with bachelor’s degrees or higher
- Including workers’ families, nearly 69 million people have been supported by extended UI benefits, including almost 17 million children
- In 2012 alone, UI benefits lifted an estimated 2.5 million people out of poverty
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on economic mobility during an event hosted by the Center for American Progress at Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus in Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Today in Southeast Washington, DC, President Obama spoke about what he called the defining challenge of our time: reversing a decades-long slope toward growing inequality and a lack of upward mobility. It's a trend that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain, the idea that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.
In the years after World War II, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known, President Obama said.
[D]uring the post-World War II years, the economic ground felt stable and secure for most Americans, and the future looked brighter than the past. And for some, that meant following in your old man’s footsteps at the local plant, and you knew that a blue-collar job would let you buy a home, and a car, maybe a vacation once in a while, health care, a reliable pension. For others, it meant going to college -- in some cases, maybe the first in your family to go to college. And it meant graduating without taking on loads of debt, and being able to count on advancement through a vibrant job market.
“Everyone’s wages and incomes were growing,” President Obama said “And because of upward mobility, the guy on the factory floor could picture his kid running the company some day.”
But by the late 1970s, this social compact began to unravel as jobs began to disappear and our economic foundation weakened. Inequality started to grow, and it got harder for children of lower-income families to move upward. Today, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family. And a child born in the top 20 percent has about a 2-in-3 chance of staying at or near the top, while a child born into the bottom 20 percent has a less than a 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top.
This afternoon, youth leaders from across the country gathered here for our White House Youth Summit. The Summit was made of up 160 of this country's finest national and local leaders aged 18-35. Joined by White House and Administration staff, these millennial participants discussed issues important to their generation -- especially spreading the word about the Affordable Care Act and organizing to get people enrolled in their respective communities. They also participated in a series of panels and breakout workshops with administration officials, stakeholder groups, and advocates.
To kick off the event, a very special guest dropped by to speak to the Youth Summit: President Obama -- who let young Americans know he needed their help.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the White House Youth Summit on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Dec. 4, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
So I'm going to need you all to spread the word about how the Affordable Care Act really works, what its benefits are, what its protections are and, most importantly, how people can sign up. I know people call this law Obamacare. And that's okay -- because I do care. I care about you. I care about families. I care about Americans.
But no matter how much I care, the truth is, is that for your friends and your family, the most important source of information is not going to be me, it's going to be you. They are going to trust you. If you're taking them on a website, walking them through it saying, look at the price you're able to get, look at the benefits you're able to get. That's what's going to be making a difference.
Last August, President Obama outlined an ambitious plan to increase value and affordability in postsecondary education. There were a number of commitments he made in his proposal, and, today, the U.S. Department of Education is announcing further action on the President’s initiatives.
President Obama told students and families that helping to ensure their debt is manageable is a priority, and equipping counselors and advisers with the resources they need to help students prepare for higher education and understand college costs is a key component. To meet these goals, the Department has launched a “one-stop shop” for guidance counselors, college advisers, mentors and volunteers to assist students through the process of choosing and financing their higher education.
The Financial Aid Toolkit, available at FinancialAidToolkit.ed.gov, consolidates financial aid resources and content into a searchable online database. That makes it easy for individuals to quickly access the information they need to support students on their path to college, including details on how to apply for financial aid along with presentations, brochures and videos.
By equipping counselors and advisers with financial aid information in an easy-to-use format, we can help to ensure that current and potential students get the assistance they need to successfully navigate the process of planning and paying for a postsecondary education.
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President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia in the Oval Office, Dec. 3, 201 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Today, President Obama hosted President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia at the White House. Their visit underscored the growing partnership with Colombia, founded on our shared democratic values, deepening economic ties, and our long history of shared security goals.
Colombia is a respected leader in the region. We are expanding our partnership far beyond security into new areas of mutual interest like commerce, energy access, regional infrastructure and economic integration. Thanks to the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement – a win-win for both countries - U.S. exports to Colombia are up nearly 20 percent, supporting thousands of American jobs and helping to achieve President Obama’s goal of doubling U.S. exports.
Colombia is an example of the profound transformations underway in Latin America. Elections that once were exceptions are now largely the norm. Some of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Latin America and across the region. Tens of millions of people have escaped poverty and entered the middle class. This represents an incredible opportunity for a new era of relations between the United States and the Americas.
Today, HHS released its first monthly report on Medicaid enrollment and enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program – and it’s good news. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act and decisions by Democratic and Republican elected officials in 26 states to expand their Medicaid programs, 1.46 million hardworking Americans have applied for and been deemed eligible to enroll in quality, affordable health care.
More hardworking Americans will know the security of health care coverage in states that chose to expand Medicaid than those states that chose to recklessly and irresponsibly deny health coverage to millions of Americans. In fact, if every state expanded Medicaid coverage, over 5.4 million more Americans—and more than 1 million in Texas alone—would get health coverage. And today’s report showed that states that expanded Medicaid have seen over a 15 percent increase in applications for Medicaid and CHIP, compared to the average monthly enrollment in the three preceding months. While states that refused to expand Medicaid only saw a 4.1 percent increase in applications.
This spike in applications confirmed what we have always known: hardworking Americans need and want the security of affordable health coverage.
A core component of President Obama’s agenda to grow the middle class is to make the U.S. a magnet for the location of high-quality jobs – especially those that support manufacturing and innovation.
The President has already taken significant steps to support America’s manufacturers, including by announcing nearly $250 million in funding to support four new manufacturing innovation institutes, aggressive new efforts to enforce trade agreements and open new markets, new investments in community colleges to help workers get the high-demand advanced manufacturing credentials needed by our manufacturers, and launching the first-ever federal effort to bring job-creating foreign investment to the U.S.
And going forward, the President will continue to push a comprehensive agenda to support a manufacturing renaissance that includes supporting a network of up to 45 manufacturing innovation institutes with a one-time $3 billion investment, making the U.S. more cost competitive by reforming our business tax code including a rate no higher than 25% for manufacturing, expanding and making permanent the R&D tax credit, continuing to ensure that trading partners like China are playing by the rules, and pushing new efforts to train workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Our emphasis on manufacturing is due to the unique role that the sector plays in creating positive “spillover” benefits to our broader economy, particularly in its connection to our ability to innovate. Manufacturing punches above its weight; despite representing 12 percent of GDP, manufacturing accounts for roughly 70 percent of private sector research and development, 60 percent of all US R&D employees, over 90 percent of patents issued, and the majority of all U.S. exports. The benefits from a stronger manufacturing sector go far beyond factory jobs and include the production capabilities needed in design and innovation for many technologies, the high-skill talent that enable our services industries, and the dense web of suppliers that employ millions outside of the manufacturing sector.
While our emphasis on manufacturing must have a long-term focus – one that goes beyond the ups and downs in our economy in any month or quarter – today we received more good news that growth in America’s manufacturing sector continues to be strong.
On Monday, ISM released its monthly purchasing managers’ index (PMI), which rose to 57.3 in November – the fastest monthly pace of growth since April 2011, with all five components of the index showing strength, including employment (a reading above 50 indicates expansion). he index has shown sector expansion for six straight months and is on track to have its strongest quarter since mid-2011. Recent strength in the ISM report underscores that America’s manufacturing sector is helping to lead our recovery. Today there is little disagreement that the U.S. is a more competitive location for production, and we are beginning to see the results. America’s manufactures have created jobs at the fastest pace in 15 years, with over 500,000 new jobs added since February 2010, and our manufacturing sector has grown roughly twice as fast as the overall economy since the beginning of 2010. And there is little doubt that without the threat of default and harm from the arbitrary sequester, America’s manufacturing sector and the economy would be performing even better today.
Back in August 2013, Young Invincibles, in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, launched the Healthy Young America Video Contest, an effort to mobilize young people to help educate and inform one another about the Affordable Care Act. Participants submitted their videos, the public weighed in, and a finalist was selected in each of three categories: "You Are Not Invincible," original song performance, and animation.
Erin McDonald was announced as the overall Grand Prize winner with her video "Forget about the Price Tag" in a Google+ Hangout featuring Kal Penn and White House Health Care policy expert Christen Linke Young on December 2.
During the Hangout, Christen and Kal also helped preview the White House Youth Summit coming up on December 4 and took questions about what the Affordable Care Act means for young people. You can tune into the Youth Summit starting at 2:00 pm ET on whitehouse.gov/live.
Watch Erin's video below, and also check out videos from finalists in the other two categories.
Grand Prize & Perform a Song Winner:
Forget About the Price Tag: Erin McDonald
A red ribbon hangs from the North Portico of the White House on Dec. 2, 2013 to mark World AIDS Day, Dec. 2, 2013 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation.” Now more than ever, it is a fitting theme as the United States focuses, both on the domestic and global fronts, on building partnerships that strengthen our response to HIV and AIDS.
Here in the U.S., we are working with state, tribal and local governments, community groups, and other key stakeholders to implement this country’s first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy (the Strategy) launched by President Obama in 2010. Since the launch, we have made significant progress in strengthening scientific investments, expanding effective HIV prevention, and connecting stakeholders in both the public and private sectors.
Last July, as the next step in implementing the Strategy, the President established via Executive Order the HIV Care Continuum Initiative, which focuses on the gaps in care and prevention, especially among communities with the greatest HIV burden. Today the White House Office of National AIDS Policy released a report that contains the first recommendations from the Initiative describing how federal efforts will be integrated to strengthen testing, linkage to care, retention and treatment for people living with HIV.
The next stage of implementing the Strategy will be guided by the work on the Initiative, in conjunction with ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which will increase access to affordable healthcare coverage for thousands of persons living with HIV and millions at risk for infection.
On her first foreign trip as National Security Advisor, Ambassador Susan Rice spent three and a half days in Afghanistan to thank our troops and civilians around the holidays, and assess the situation on the ground.
Afghanistan continues to be one of the United States’ top national security priorities, and this was opportunity for Ambassador Rice to take stock of our efforts and meet with American troops serving in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and our civilians at the U.S. Mission to Afghanistan.
First Lady Michelle Obama, with daughters Sasha and Malia, along with Obama family pets Bo and Sunny, welcome the arrival of the official White House Christmas tree at the North Portico of the White House, Nov. 29, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)
Today, First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed the delivery of the Official White House Christmas Tree. The tree, a 18 1/2-foot high and nearly 11 foot wide Douglas Fir arrived in a horse-drawn carriage.
Members of the National Christmas Tree Association have presented the official White House Christmas Tree for display in the Blue Room each year since 1966. This year, the tree will be presented to the First Lady by the Botek family, growers of this year’s tree, and the Wyckoff family, winners of the National Christmas Tree Association’s National Christmas Tree contest. The Boteks are second-generation Christmas Tree farmers from Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Lehighton, PA, and the Wyckoff farm has been family owned for six generations -- since 1839. This year, four trees from the farm will be featured throughout the White House during the holiday season.
The official White House Christmas Tree will be displayed in the heart of the White House: the Blue Room. As in many years past, the tree will be decorated in honor of military families.
Learn more about past White House Holidays and stay tuned for more information about this years White House holiday décor.
In September 2009, the President announced that—for the first time in history—White House visitor records would be made available to the public on an ongoing basis. Today, the White House releases visitor records that were generated in August 2013. This release brings the total number of records made public by this White House to over 3.4 million—all of which can be viewed in our Disclosures section.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visits with a group staging a public fast for immigration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Nov. 29, 2013. "Fast for Families" is seeking to pressure Congress into passing an immigration bill. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Today, the President and the First Lady visited the brave individuals who are fasting in the shadow of the Capitol, sacrificing their health in an effort to get Congress to act swiftly on commonsense immigration reform. The President and the First Lady gave their support for their fight for family unity this Thanksgiving weekend, as families across the country come together to spend time with loved ones.
Since November 12, fasters from “Fast For Families” have abstained from all food except water in an effort to bring attention to the urgent need for the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives to take a vote on comprehensive immigration reform. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and I have also visited Fast For families in recent weeks.
The fasters shared their stories and described empty stomachs but full hearts as they received an outpouring of support; to date, more than 3,000 people around the country have committed to fasting in solidarity.
The President and the First Lady thanked Eliseo Medina, Dae Joong Yoon, and all of the fasters for their sacrifice and dedication and told them that the country is behind them on immigration reform. He said that the only thing standing in the way is politics. And it is the brave commitment to change from advocates like them that will pressure the House to finally act on immigration reform.
This Thanksgiving, as friends, family, and community gather in the spirit of unity, we lend our support to those fighting for making commonsense immigration reform a reality. We will stand with them every step of the way to make sure that we bring coherence to our immigration laws, and pass a common sense reform that is consistent with our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
Update: See how President Obama and Administration Officials celebrated Small Business Saturday 2013 over at Storify.
November 30 is Small Business Saturday, a day to celebrate and support small businesses in the holiday season and all they do for their communities.
In the past, President Obama has been no stranger to enjoying all that this country's small businesses have to offer.
Check out some moments of the President at some of his favorite small businesses, then make sure shop small and support the great businesses in your area this Saturday. You can also check out SBA’s tips on how to prepare for the holiday season at www.sba.gov/saturday.
Welcome to this Thanksgiving Edition of West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and beyond. This week, the President traveled to the west coast for a three day, three city swing, sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters, met with student entrepreneurs, held a video conference with Peace Corps volunteers, and announced a breakthrough in diplomatic talks with Iran. That's November 22rd to November 28th or "Kindness Covers All of My Political Beliefs."
In his weekly address, President Obama gave thanks to all the men and women defending our freedom and acknowledged their sacrifice might mean they can’t spend the holidays with their families. The President also recognized that as Americans, we gather together this Thanksgiving to lift up those who need a helping hand, letting us move forward as a country and lead us to a brighter tomorrow.
We've come a long way since 11-year-old Tad Lincoln convinced his father to "adopt" a turkey named Jack in 1863.
The competition was stiff, but we can officially declare that Popcorn is the winner -- proving that even a turkey with a funny name can find a place in politics. As for Caramel, he’s sticking around, and he’s already busy raising money for his next campaign.
This Saturday, November 30th, I will join a number of White House and Cabinet Officials, along with millions of Americans around the country, in paying tribute to small businesses, which drive our economy, and help to define the spirit of our communities.
I will be spending Small Business Saturday in Chicago, to start on my holiday shopping, and reacquaint myself with the small businesses lining my hometown streets, and breathing life into my neighborhood.
There is of course, no need to wait for Small Business Saturday to enjoy the local delicacies and the unique goods being sold in our communities. It can be a concerted effort throughout the year, and an ongoing priority for all Americans. The President certainly sees it that way, and has made support for small business a top priority every day he has spent in office.
Throughout President Obama's career, he has been fighting for young people. Whether it is increasing access to higher education, or expanding health care coverage, giving young people a fair shot has been and always will be a priority.
The President also believes in reaching out to youth across the country to make sure we’re hearing what they have to say, and helping them better understand the policies and programs that impact them. That’s why, on Wednesday, December 4th, we’re hosting over 150 leaders from across the country at the White House for a Youth Summit. The Summit will offer young people coming to the White House and across the country a chance to discuss the Affordable Care Act and others issues important to them.
Even if you can't be at the Summit in person, we still want to hear from you!
On Monday, December 2nd at 8:00 p.m. ET, join White House Senior Commnications Advisor Tara McGuinness, Kal Penn, and Young Invincibles for a Google+ Hangout. During this live video chat, we'll announce the winners of the "Healthy Young America Video Contest," preview the upcoming Youth Summit, and take questions about the Affordable Care Act and what It means for young Americans.
You can watch the Hangout live on the White House Google+ page. Have a comments or questions? Ask them using the hashtag #WHYouth on Twitter and on Google+ and we'll answer some of them during the live Hangout.
Additionally, on December 4th, you can watch the Summit live starting at 2:00 pm ET on Whitehouse.gov/live. Throughout the day White House staff, HHS officials, and other special guests will be taking questions submitted on twitter using the hashtag #WHYouthSummit.
Kyle Lierman serves Youth Liaison in the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Department of Labor blog. See the original post here.
If you have had the chance to step onto a community college campus recently, you know the special role they are playing in rebuilding the American economy. Over the last three years, this administration has made unprecedented investments in the community college system through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training − or TAACCCT − grant program. These grants encourage schools across the country to work with each other, with the workforce system and with employers to create cutting edge training programs that prepare workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
At Cleveland Community College in Shelby, N.C., Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary Perez listen in as Kenneth Dover (second from right) talks about his experience making the transition from the Marines to a career in "mission critical" IT operations.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the economy to employees at the DreamWorks Animation SKG movie studio in Glendale, Calif., Nov. 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
It’s part of what makes us exceptional, part of what makes us such a world power. You can go anywhere on the planet and you’ll see a kid wearing a “Madagascar” T-shirt. You can say, “May the Force be with you” -- they know what you’re talking about. Hundreds of millions of people may never set foot in the United States, but thanks to you, they’ve experienced a small part of what makes our country special. They’ve learned something about our values. We have shaped a world culture through you.
Laurie and Debbie say:
There’s so much good news that we’re leaving stuff out! Let’s start with an in-your-face inspiring video.
“Say it right or don’t say it at all,” says Sha’Condria “iCon” Sibley, 2012 National Poetry Slam Championship Team, in a video entitled “For All the Little Black Girls with Big Names (dedicated to Quevenzhane’ Wallis).
There are rays of hope for the earth: The European Union has banned the neocotinoid pesticides which are almost certainly responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder which is destroying bees around the world. Massachusetts has signed contracts for wind-generated electricity at a lower price than traditional coal and nuclear energy. In Debbie’s back yard, river otters and ospreys are coming back to Lake Merritt, a human-made lake in Central Oakland.
On a human note, extreme poverty in the world is actually seriously declining. And, contrary to the pattern of contemporary corporations, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline are making HPV vaccines (which prevent cervical cancer) available in poor countries at an almost affordable price (though of course it could be even less).
South Korean transgender people can now change their legal gender without changing their genitals. And in California, transgender students can now select both bathrooms and athletic affiliations based on their self-chosen identity. Perhaps even more surprising, California children can now have three legal parents.
The United States government has actually done some constructive things this year. The Affordable Care Act may have gotten off to a shaky start, but it is certainly improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. And Vermont is parlaying it into single-payer, the kind of health care we’d really like to see. Meanwhile, the Democrats in the Senate finally went some distance to limit the filibuster, which has become a tactic of uncontrolled Republican obstructionism . And in the most amazing recent news, the Obama Administration has made a preliminary deal with Iran about nuclear weapons and sanctions, which may even spread to help end the war in Syria.
The Catholic Church has selected an Argentinian pope who is committed to consensus, community, and feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Among Pope Francis’s public statements since assuming the papacy are opposition to fracking as part of of his anticapitalist stance. He wants to see the power of the Church un-Vatican-centered.
We wrote last year about Rolling Jubilee, and now they have bought $15 million dollars in random medical debt, and torn it up. The most recent large buy removed debt from 1900 debtors, with the largest single debtor having $237,000 in debt. Their website says “and more to come.” The debt forgiveness is real, but the underlying intention to call attention to the trillions of dollars of debt which burdens more than 70% of Americans
And then there’s Ann Makosinski, the 15-year-old girl in Canada, who invented a flashlight powered by the heat of your hand.
We could actually add a lot more, but this seems like a fine assortment. We’re taking Thanksgiving weekend off, and we hope you are doing something wonderful!
As most of you know, I’m inclined to be very conservative with regard to changes in English–my reaction is something like, “Okay, I’ll accept that change as soon as you convince me it makes the language more flexible, and permits finer distinctions.” Now that, in itself, is neither good nor bad. I understand that many battles have already been lost, and if I still use “hopefully” to mean filled with hope and never use it for I hope or all right-thinking people ought to hope, and if I consider “they” to be plural, well, that’s my business, and I’m not about to criticize someone else for using them differently. And lately, I’ve even been trying to grit my teeth and remain silent in the face of “proactive.”
In many cases, especially corporate-speak, I know perfectly well why I hate it: it serves to blur distinctions, and to convey a dishonest subtext (for example, “self-select” in place of “choose” is intended to elevate the importance of the subject, the object, or both).
But what is interesting to me is when I discover exceptions. Blatant misuses of English, usually from the internet, that delight me. I’ve found no pattern for when something makes me grimace in pain, and when it makes me smile.
For example, “U” in place of “you” irritates me, but I actively like “obvs.”
Remember the lolcats thing from a few years ago? I hated that. For about six months. Then, suddenly it made me grin, and I even used it a few times. Why the change? I have no idea.
Much of leetspeak (such as “l33t”) makes me want to hit someone. But there are other things just as bad that I’m totes okay with, and some of them are just adorbz.
So, do you love them all, hate them all, or are there some you like? And if you can figure out a pattern in my taste or your own, I’m interested in hearing it. Because language.
Ed. note: This is cross-posted from The Huffington Post. See the original post here.
Ensuring the full freedom of women as health care consumers to access essential preventative health services is a vital component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And nowhere are health decisions more personal or essential to keep in their hands, than those regarding reproductive health. The ACA was designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor, and not by her boss, or Washington politicians.
Today, there are people trying to take this right away from women, by letting private, for-profit corporations and employers make medical decisions for their employees, based on their personal beliefs.
A group of for-profit companies are currently suing to gain the right to deny employees access to coverage for birth control and contraceptive care, which are used by the overwhelming majority of American women in their lifetimes. Among the first cases to reach the Supreme Court is one filed by Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain whose owners want to be able to take the option for birth control benefits away from their employees.
Today, the Administration released new data showing that Affordable Care Act is helping more seniors save more money on their prescription drug costs.
Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, more than 7.3 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved $8.9 billion on their prescription drugs, an average of $1,209 per person since 2010.
Before the Affordable Care Act, many people with Medicare Part D would pay out-of-pocket for the entire cost of prescription drugs once they hit the coverage gap in prescription drug benefits known as the “donut hole.” Beneficiaries continued paying full price for prescriptions until reaching catastrophic coverage.
But under a discount program in the Affordable Care Act, anyone with a Medicare prescription drug plan who reached the prescription drug donut hole in 2010 got a $250 rebate. Beginning in 2011, beneficiaries who landed in the donut hole began receiving discounts on covered brand-name drugs and savings on generic drugs.
On Wednesday, November 27th, President Obama will pardon the 2013 National Thanksgiving Turkey and once again the American people will decide which bird takes the title.
Turkeys have carved out a pivotal role in the holiday season at the White House since the 19th century, but last year, for the first time, the pardon winner was chosen through a competitive online vote.
Which of these two turkeys will be plucked from obscurity and awarded the title? Hatched on the same day on the farm of John Burkel near Badger, Minnesota, Caramel and Popcorn may have been raised together, but each has flown their own path. Caramel is a steady and deliberate bird that enjoys soybean meal and rocking out to Lady Gaga. When Popcorn is feeling peckish, he can't stop snacking on his namesake, corn, and has been known to strut around to Beyonce's "Halo".
People all across the country are flocking to cast a vote, so be sure to learn more about Caramel and Popcorn, listen to them croon their distinct gobble sounds and then tell us who you think should be named the National Thanksgiving Turkey!
Are you on #TeamCaramel or #TeamPopcorn? Find out how you can vote on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at Whitehouse.gov/Turkey.
We'll count up the hashtags to make sure there's no fowl play. The deadline for voting is 8pm ET on Tuesday, November 26th.
Don't forget to tune in to President Obama's remarks and the ceremony on Wednesday, November 27th on http://wh.gov/live at 1:15 pm ET to find out which turkey has been selected as the 2013 National Thanksgiving Turkey. And for more on how this Presidential tradition came to be check out the definitive history of the Presidential Turkey Pardon.
Note: It's all gravy -- no turkeys will be harmed during the selection of the National Thanksgiving Turkey. After the pardoning, both turkeys travel to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens where they will be on display for visitors during "Christmas at Mount Vernon." The turkeys will then travel to their permanent home at Morven Park's Turkey Hill, the historic turkey farm located at the home of former Virginia Governor Westmorland Davis in Leesburg, Virginia. Additionally, if for any reason one turkey is unable to perform the duties of the National Thanksgiving Turkey, his alternate will take his place during the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation.
You don't have to be a kid to be excited about this:
The first ever White House Student Film Festival launches today — and it's open to U.S. students, grades K-12. We're asking you to answer these big questions:
What’s your education story & how does technology and connectivity fit into how you learn at school or on your own? How do you imagine technology will change the educational experience for kids in the future?
Films can be short – in fact 3 minutes tops. The official selections will be featured on the White House website, and shared across the world on White House sites and official social media accounts. In fact, if selected, you may have a chance to attend the film fest yourself at the White House.
Ready to get started? Check out our official page at WhiteHouse.Gov/FilmFest -- where you can learn more, read the official rules, see how to submit your video, and hear from Bill Nye (the Science Guy). And if you're a parent, guardian, or teacher, make sure you spread the word to kids with big ideas!
We can't wait to see what you make.
Here are more important details you should know:
--Every student entry has to have a parent/guardian or teacher sponsor.
--Films can be submitted now through January 29th, 2014.
--If your video is selected as an official selection, you could have a chance to attend the mid-February screening at the White House.
Read the complete rules (and submit your video!) at WhiteHouse.Gov/FilmFest
Ed. note: This event has concluded. Watch the full hangout below.
As we prepare for Thanksgiving here at the White House, you’re invited to join me and a lineup of top food experts as we “talk turkey” and dive into our dinner plates to explore the science of cooking. We’ll be drilling down into the science behind what makes turkey so tasty, why we feel compelled to nap after eating it, and the secret science sauce behind brining and marinating.
Please join us this Wednesday at 12pm ET for a We the Geeks on the Science of Cooking! The episode will air on www.WhiteHouse.gov/wethegeeks in the run-up to President Obama’s annual turkey pardoning at the White House.
Join Food Network Chef Anne Burrell, former NASA astronaut Ron Garan, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's Kumar Garg, and me as we discuss the raw science behind turkey, stuffing, and other fixins’ on our Thanksgiving tables like breads, whole grains, flour, and gluten. We’ll also shed light on the exciting chemistry behind cooking and eating: How much carbon dioxide do we consume when eat a meal? And what exactly is fermentation anyway?
We'll also explore how cooking can be used to get more kids excited about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.
“We the Geeks" is a series of Google+ Hangouts to discuss science, technology, and innovation here in the United States. Join the conversation on Twitter and be sure to sign up for email updates about future "We the Geeks" hangouts.
Bill Yosses is the White House Executive Pastry Chef
(Editor's note: Check out the Public Service Announcement from Food Network Chef Anne Burrell and Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds on getting kids excited about STEM through cooking.)
Typically, the holidays are a moment when many Americans volunteer to help the most vulnerable. Others make charitable contributions that can last throughout the holiday season. Next week, we will celebrate #GivingTuesday, a worldwide effort to raise awareness and motivate action for the common good.
Started by the United Nations Foundation and the 92d Street Y, #GivingTuesday builds on the American tradition of giving back but uses technology to give this greater impact. This commemoration does not seek to coordinate funds toward any particular nonprofit or to direct volunteers to support a specific cause. Instead, #GivingTuesday is intended to encourage Americans to reflect and give back. It’s a collective moment for individual and community action.
#GivingTuesday has significant momentum. More than 7000 partners across all 50 states are taking part. This includes large corporations and small businesses, faith-based organizations and secular nonprofits. This year, cities are stepping forward to galvanize the movement. They are celebrating local causes through unique campaigns like BMoreGivesMore in Baltimore; #GivingTuesdayBucks in Bucks County, PA; and #GivingTuesdayPHL in Philadelphia. In all these communities, nonprofits, businesses and government are collaborating to raise awareness and drive funds for those in need.
Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the U.S. Small Business Administration. See the original post here.
Most Americans know Black Friday and Cyber Monday are big days for holiday shopping. But between the two is another important part of the holiday shopping season –Small Business Saturday, a day that is dedicated to supporting the small businesses that anchor our local communities and strengthen our economy.
From the Main Street shops to the high-tech startups, small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of a diverse and thriving marketplace. These businesses create two out of every three net new private sector jobs, and half of working Americans either own or work for a small business. By shopping small and supporting local business, we all have a role to play in giving millions of families the opportunity to achieve the American dream.
Small Business Saturday is a nation-wide initiative that bring Americans together to support these businesses, with the money you spend going right back into your local economy, and that’s important because we know that half of working Americans either own or work for a small business.
Started in 2010, Small Business Saturday has boosted holiday sales in Main Street businesses around the country. Last year, nearly 70 million people shopped small in their communities for an estimated $5.5 billion in sales to independently-owned small businesses. This year, we can do even more!
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on immigration, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco, Calif., Nov. 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
In the early 1900s, more than 300,000 people passed through California’s Angel Island on their way to a new life in America, many drawn by the belief that here, anything was possible.
Today, just a few miles away at the Betty Ong Recreation Center in San Francisco’s Chinatown, President Obama said he is committed to fixing our broken immigration system to make sure we continue welcoming striving, hardworking immigrants who see America the same way many of our ancestors did when they came here generations ago -- as a country where no matter who you are or what you look like or where you come from, you can make it if you try.
“Too often when we talk about immigration, the debate focuses on our southern border,” President Obama said. But immigrants from all over the world have put down roots in every corner of the country. In San Francisco, where the economy is one of the fastest growing in the country, 35 percent of business owners are immigrants.
“That’s the impact that our talented, hardworking immigrants can have," he said. “That’s the difference they can make. And that’s why it’s long past time to reform an immigration system that doesn’t serve America as well as it should – because we should be doing more to unleash that potential.”
President Obama shared the story of Andrew Ly and his brothers, who emigrated from Vietnam by way of Malaysia. Once they arrived in San Francisco, they learned English and worked as handymen and seamstresses.
Eventually, Andrew and his brothers earned enough money to buy a small bakery. And they started making donuts, and they started selling them to Chinese restaurants. And with a lot of hard work and a little luck, the Sugar Bowl Bakery today is a $60 million business. So these humble and striving immigrants from Vietnam now employ more than 300 Americans. They’re supplying pastries to Costco and Safeway, and almost every hotel and hospital in San Francisco.
We are excited to announce our next White House Social event, an in-person meeting for people who engage with us on social media.
On Wednesday, December 4, 2013 the White House will host a Youth Summit, offering young people from around the country an opportunity to discuss the Affordable Care Act and other issues with senior White House officials. White House Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+ followers ages 18-35 are eligible to apply to attend this White House event on December 4.
Interested in joining? Sign up for your chance to join other White House social media followers at the #WHYouth social. In order to apply you must follow an official White House Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Instagram account. After you sign up, spread the word! Let your followers know that you applied to attend the #WHYouth social
Sign-up to get email updates for Young Americans from the Office of Public Engagement.
In Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper, which is now 40 years old , a man (Woody Allen) time travels to the future, where (of course), they find him very strange. In this sequence, two doctors discuss their time traveler’s food preferences:
Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called “wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk.”
Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or… hot fudge?
Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy… precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible.
When I read about nutrition science, I often think about this scene. Now, Edward Archer, a research fellow at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, who makes somewhat less of the fact that he is also the Chief Science Officer of a South Carolina bio-informatics company whose business is helping people track their activity to improve their health, has recently been all over the nutrition news with this article:
Recently, I was the lead author on a paper demonstrating that about 40 years and many millions of dollars of US nutritional surveillance data were fatally flawed. In most research domains, such a finding might be monumental; yet in nutrition epidemiology—the study of the impact of diet on health, hereafter referred to simply as “nutrition”—these results are commonplace.
Nutrition has had many colossal and costly failures. The list of dietary components claimed to reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD), prevent cognitive decline, and/or fight cancer that were later refuted via clinical trials is extensive. And while the self-correcting nature of science necessitates failure, the vast majority of nutrition’s failures were engendered by a complete lack of familiarity with the scientific method.
So far, Archer and I are as one, except that he has more data. But then he starts to place blame, and first he blames the subjects of the studies:
This deficit is most apparent in the field’s reliance on self-reports of diet. Such information, to which nutrition researchers assign numeric caloric values, is rife with bias, and without the ability to corroborate or falsify the reports, the data should be considered pseudoscientific—outside the realm of scientific research.
Then he brings in his own vested interest, which he does not disclose.
Moreover, nutrition research fails to control for well-known, empirically supported, and in many cases obvious confounders. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization have repeatedly determined that human food energy requirements should be estimated using total daily energy expenditure, and that physical activity and basal energy expenditure are the primary determinants of this measure. Yet nutrition research rarely measures any form of energy expenditure or quantifies physical activity.
Not only does he keep quiet about his company, which makes energy expenditure tracking equipment, he doesn’t say that the major study he’s referring to (linked above) is based largely on “physically credible intake values,” or, in English, what quantifying scientists believe could be true about what study subjects say they eat. Finally, doesn’t acknowledge that self-reporting exercise and activity are not going to be any different from self-reporting food intake (perhaps because his company’s machinery provides “objective” evidence of energy expenditure).
And here’s the meat:
The subjective data yielded by poorly formulated nutrition studies are also the perfect vehicle to perpetuate a never-ending cycle of ambiguous findings leading to ever-more federal funding. The National Institutes of Health spent an estimated $2.2 billion on nutrition and obesity research in the 2012 fiscal year, a significant proportion of which was spent on research that used the pseudoscientific methods described above. The fact that nutrition researchers have known for decades that these techniques are invalid implies that the field has been perpetrating fraud against the US taxpayers for more than 40 years—far greater than any fraud perpetrated in the private sector (e.g., the Enron and Madoff scandals).
So, nutrition science sucks because:
1) People lie;
2) We count calories but not activity, and if we counted activity that would be reliable in a way that counting calories isn’t; and
3) Nutrition scientists are taught to keep their jobs and keep getting funding.
So, okay, people lie about what they eat. This is no different than any other kind of self-reporting; would he say that, for example, AIDS research into sexual behavior is equally pseudo-scientific? That jury pool questionnaires about past experiences are equally unreliable? Probably he would. What he doesn’t say, of course, is that one reason people lie about what they eat is that we know we will be either shamed (if we eat more than the researchers think we should) or disbelieved (if we eat less than the researchers believe we might), which is not any kind of motivation to tell the truth. And even if researchers are completely without judgment, we have an entire culture of food-shaming and disbelief experiences behind us, so it would be hard to recognize their nonjudgmental position.
For the record, I completely distrust this “physically credible intake” concept. Here’s one story, which April Miller told in Women En Large. Half the readers of this blog probably have similar ones:
When I was in ninth grade, I entered the hospital for a month on a strict five-hundred-calorie-a-day diet. I weighed in every morning, and one morning I’d gained three pounds. My doctor screamed at me. He said I could only have gained weight by sneaking candy. That diet was my last-ditch attempt to be “normal.” I knew that I had done everything perfectly and that those three pounds were not my fault. Maybe none of it–my weight, the way people treated me–was my fault.
April’s story illustrates at least two problems with Archer’s approach. First, the strictest hospital controls (just like the strictest prison controls) will never prevent some people finding ways to break the rules, so there’s no alternative to some level of self-reporting. Second, it is possible to gain three pounds (overnight) without sneaking candy. It isn’t plausible that a person could eat enough candy to gain three pounds overnight, unless something else is going on, which April’s doctor (and nutrition scientists) should realize instantly.
In this context, notice this recent reversal of common nutrition wisdom. This very large study tracked milk drinking in teenage years against hip fractures in older adults, and found that additional milk was neutral in women and actually risky in men, especially taller men. The study by its nature called for self-reporting of behaviors from 30-40 years prior to the study, which would tend to reduce the quality of self-reporting, but milk intake is less likely to be a shaming/disbelieving area, which would tend to increase the quality of self-reporting. By Archer’s standards, should we believe it? To be consistent, he would have to throw it out, but I suspect that a) it’s probably reasonably good science because of the large number of people (which also tends to balance out bad self-reporting, unless that bad self-reporting is completely consistent) and because of the confirming indicators (like tracking to men’s height).
Tracking energy expenditure is probably a good idea. In this age of Fitbits and pedometers and Wii’s (and expensive bioinformatics equipment like the things Archer manufactures), we can do some of this. And if we do it carefully and respectfully and well, we will probably learn something about how exercise and diet and weight work together for (if we’re lucky) most people most of the time. But that will still not explain the outliers, and it’s very tricky to set standards for most people without shaming the outliers.
Getting scientists to design carefully scientific experiments rather than experiments that will help them keep their jobs and get funding is hardly specific to nutrition scientists. Laurie and I tend to stay away from pure political blogging, but any good anti-corporate analysis will deal with this point. Unsurprisingly, Archer (who is, after all, pursuing the agenda of his own small corporation) sidesteps it completely in his conclusion.
The solution to this dilemma is quite simple: funding agencies must stop funding flawed nutrition research, and the editors of nutrition journals need to stop publishing the results. Given the immense amount of money invested in this field each year, this goal is much easier to state than to accomplish. Nevertheless, the health of our nation depends on nutrition finding a scientist that can disperse the wolves and lead the overly credulous nutrition flock to more productive pastures and empirically supported public health policies.
You have to hand it to him. I even agree with him. If funding agencies stopped funding flawed research (even assuming any kind of consensus on what’s “flawed”), the money would stop flowing even more than it has in the last five years. And if journal editors stopped publishing results of flawed research, the scientific journals business would be thrown into chaos. But to talk about these things without mentioning the flow of corporate money into science is to engage in flawed reasoning (which is where flawed research comes from).
“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. That’s why I carry hot coals in a long shovel. And anger in a good .12-guage.”
– Billy-Bob Gautama