Monday, March 5, 2012

New Data: The Affordable Care Act in Your State

For the past year, Amy Ward of West Des Moines, Iowa has been living through a medical emergency that sounds like a TV plotline. Months after returning from a vacation, she came down with a rare fungal infection – a disease that only a tiny fraction of the population contracts – and nearly died.
On her road to recovery, Amy's had to be on ventilators and dialysis. She's needed potent antifungal agents that cost up to $1,600 a dose. Her medical expenses quickly added up.
Without the Affordable Care Act, Amy and her husband may not have been able to afford all the care she needed to recover. Before the new health reform law, Amy's health insurance policy had a lifetime dollar limit of $1 million. While it sounds like a lot, Amy's expenses exceeded that amount within months.
Lifetime limits used to be common – in 2009, nearly 60 percent of employer-sponsored plans and 89 percent of individually purchased coverage had them.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Amy is one of 105 million Americans – and nearly 1.2 million Iowans – with private health insurance who no longer will face lifetime limits on their care. You can read the Department of Health and Human Services' latest research on the number of people who no longer have a lifetime limit on their insurance plan here.
This lifetime limit ban is just one of many new consumer protections created by the new law. Annual dollar limits on coverage are being phased out. And 54 million Americans received new coverage of prevention without cost sharing in 2011.
Today, the Obama Administration released a new source of data, Health Reform: Results in Your State, to show how the law's benefits and protections are helping Americans across the country. To see how many people in your state are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act,

President Obama Meets With Prime Minister Netanyahu

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel (March 5, 2012)
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel deliver statements to the press prior to their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, March 5, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
A day after speaking at the AIPAC Policy Conference, President Obama welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House.
Before the two leaders sat down for their meeting, they spoke briefly with reporters. President Obama said:
This visit obviously comes at a critical time. We are seeing incredible changes that are taking place in the Middle East and in North Africa. We have seen the terrible bloodshed that's going on in Syria, the democratic transition that's taking place in Egypt. And in the midst of this, we have an island of democracy and one of our greatest allies in Israel.
As I've said repeatedly, the bond between our two countries is unbreakable. My personal commitment -- a commitment that is consistent with the history of other occupants of this Oval Office -- our commitment to the security of Israel is rock solid. And as I've said to the Prime Minister in every single one of our meetings, the United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security. This is a bond that is based not only on our mutual security interests and economic interests, but is also based on common values and the incredible people-to-people contacts that we have between our two countries.

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel

Oval Office
10:53 A.M. EST
PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I want to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu and the entire Israeli delegation back to the White House, back to the Oval Office.
This visit obviously comes at a critical time.  We are seeing incredible changes that are taking place in the Middle East and in North Africa.  We have seen the terrible bloodshed that's going on in Syria, the democratic transition that's taking place in Egypt.  And in the midst of this, we have an island of democracy and one of our greatest allies in Israel.
As I've said repeatedly, the bond between our two countries is unbreakable.  My personal commitment -- a commitment that is consistent with the history of other occupants of this Oval Office -- our commitment to the security of Israel is rock solid. And as I've said to the Prime Minister in every single one of our meetings, the United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security.  This is a bond that is based not only on our mutual security interests and economic interests, but is also based on common values and the incredible people-to-people contacts that we have between our two countries.
During the course of this meeting, we'll talk about the regional issues that are taking place, and I look forward to the Prime Minister sharing with me his ideas about how we can increase the prospects of peace and security in the region.  We will discuss the issues that continue to be a focus of not only our foreign policy but also the Prime Minister's -- how we can, potentially, bring about a calmer set of discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians and arrive at a peaceful resolution to that longstanding conflict.  It is a very difficult thing to do in light of the context right now, but I know that the Prime Minister remains committed to trying to achieve that.
And obviously a large topic of conversation will be Iran, which I devoted a lot of time to in my speech to AIPAC yesterday, and I know that the Prime Minister has been focused on for a long period of time.  Let me just reiterate a couple of points on that.
Number one, we all know that it's unacceptable from Israel's perspective to have a country with a nuclear weapon that has called for the destruction of Israel.  But as I emphasized yesterday, it is profoundly in the United States' interest as well to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  We do not want to see a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world.  We do not want the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorists.  And we do not want a regime that has been a state sponsor of terrorism being able to feel that it can act even more aggressively or with impunity as a consequence of its nuclear power.
That's why we have worked so diligently to set up the most crippling sanctions ever with respect to Iran.  We do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue, but ultimately the Iranians' regime has to make a decision to move in that direction, a decision that they have not made thus far.
And as I emphasized, even as we will continue on the diplomatic front, we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions, I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment.  My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.  And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.
Having said that, I know that both the Prime Minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically.  We understand the costs of any military action.  And I want to assure both the American people and the Israeli people that we are in constant and close consultation.  I think the levels of coordination and consultation between our militaries and our intelligence not just on this issue but on a broad range of issues has been unprecedented.  And I intend to make sure that that continues during what will be a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012.
So, Prime Minister, we welcome you and we appreciate very much the friendship of the Israeli people.  You can count on that friendship always being reciprocated from the United States.



PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. President, thank you for those kind words.  And thank you, too, for that strong speech yesterday.  And I want to thank you also for the warm hospitality that you've shown me and my delegation.
The alliance between our two countries is deeply appreciated by me and by everyone in Israel.  And I think that, as you said, when Americans look around the Middle East today, they see one reliable, stable, faithful ally of the United States, and that's the democracy of Israel.
Americans know that Israel and the United States share common values, that we defend common interests, that we face common enemies.  Iran's leaders know that, too.  For them, you're the Great Satan, we're the Little Satan.  For them, we are you and you're us.  And you know something, Mr. President -- at least on this last point, I think they're right.  We are you, and you are us.  We're together.  So if there's one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it's that Israel and America stand together.
I think that above and beyond that are two principles, longstanding principles of American policy that you reiterated yesterday in your speech -- that Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat; and that when it comes to Israel's security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions.  I believe that's why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself.
And after all, that's the very purpose of the Jewish state  -- to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny.  And that's why my supreme responsibility as Prime Minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.
So I thank you very much, Mr. President, for your friendship, and I look forward to our discussions.  Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much.
Thank you, everybody.

11:02 A.M. EST

NBC/WSJ poll: Primary season takes 'corrosive' toll on GOP and its candidates

As another round of voting takes place this week in the Republican presidential race – with 11 states holding Super Tuesday contests – a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the combative and heavily scrutinized primary season so far has damaged the party and its candidates.
Four in 10 of all adults say the GOP nominating process has given them a less favorable impression of the Republican Party, versus just slightly more than one in 10 with a more favorable opinion.
Additionally, when asked to describe the GOP nominating battle in a word or phrase, nearly 70 percent of respondents – including six in 10 independents and even more than half of Republicans – answered with a negative comment.
Some examples of these negative comments from Republicans: "Unenthusiastic," "discouraged," "lesser of two evils," "painful," "disappointed," "poor choices," "concerned," "underwhelmed,” “uninspiring” and “depressed.”
And perhaps most significantly, the GOP primary process has taken a toll on the Republican presidential candidates, including front-runner Mitt Romney, who is seen more unfavorably and whose standing with independents remains underwater.
“The primaries have not raised the stature of the party, nor enhanced the appeal of the candidates,” says Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
“The word you’d have to use at this stage is: ‘Corrosive,’” McInturff adds.
The damage from the Republican primary season – in addition to a rising job-approval rating for President Obama and more optimism about the U.S. economy – has given Democrats an early advantage for November’s general election.
Indeed, the president’s job-approval rating now stands at 50 percent; Obama leads Romney in a hypothetical general-election match up by six points; and Democrats hold a five-point edge on the generic congressional ballot.
If this poll’s outlook on the 2012 race were a cocktail, Hart says, it would be “one part Obama, one part the economy, and three parts the Republican Party’s destruction.” 

Bad news and good news for Romney

How damaging has the primary season – with all of its debates, attack ads and scrutiny -- been for the Republican Party?
Forty percent of all adults say the GOP contest so far has made them feel less favorable about the party, while 12 percent say they now have a more favorable impression. Forty-seven percent say it’s had no impact.
Even among Republicans, 23 percent maintain the primary season has given them a less favorable opinion of the party, versus 16 percent who say it’s been positive.
In addition, 55 percent of respondents – including 35 percent of Republicans – believe the Democratic Party does a better job than the GOP in appealing to those who aren’t hard-core supporters. Just 26 percent say the Republican Party does a better job on this front.
And it’s been damaging for Romney, too. In January’s NBC/WSJ poll, Romney’s favorable/unfavorable rating stood at 31 percent to 36 percent among all respondents (and 22/42 percent among independents).
But in this latest survey, it’s now 28 percent favorable and 39 percent unfavorable (and 22/38 percent among independents).
In fact, Romney’s image right now is worse than almost all other recent candidates who went on to win their party’s presidential nomination: Obama’s favorable/unfavorable ratio was 51/28 percent and John McCain’s was 47/27, in the March 2008 NBC/WSJ poll; John Kerry was at 42/30 at this point in 2004; George W. Bush was 43/32 in 2000; and Bob Dole was 35/39 in March 1996.
The one exception: Bill Clinton, in April 1992, was at 32/43 percent.
But there is also some good news for Romney in the poll, especially as it relates to his bid to capture the GOP presidential nomination.
After his primary victories last Tuesday in Arizona and Michigan, the former Massachusetts governor leads the national Republican horserace, getting support from 38 percent of GOP voters, his highest-ever mark in the poll.
He’s followed by former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum at 32 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul tied at 13 percent.
In a race reduced to just two candidates, Romney leads Santorum by five percentage points, 50 to 45 percent.
In particular, Romney has improved his standing with Tea Party supporters, getting support from 44 percent of them in a two-way contest against Santorum.
And what’s more, 72 percent of Republicans say they would be satisfied if Romney becomes their party’s presidential nominee.

Obama’s improved political standing

When it comes to President Obama, the poll contains mostly good news. Fifty percent approve of his job – his highest mark in the NBC/WSJ survey since Osama bin Laden’s death – and 45 percent disapprove.
In a hypothetical general-election contest, he leads Romney by six points, 50 to 44 percent, winning independents (46-39 percent), women (55-37 percent) and those in the Midwest (52-42 percent).
Obama enjoys bigger leads over Paul (50 to 42 percent), Santorum (53 to 39 percent) and Gingrich (54 to 37 percent).
Bolstering Obama’s standing is increased optimism about the state of the U.S. economy.
Forty percent believe the economy will improve during the next year, a three-point increase from January. And looking back at the economic recession, 57 percent say that the worst is behind us, while 36 percent say the worst is still to come.
Back in November, only 49 percent said the worst was behind us.
“President Obama is probably in the best political shape he’s been in since his initial year as president,” says Hart, the Democratic pollster.
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted from Feb. 29 through March 3 of 800 adults (including 200 by cellphone), and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.5 percentage points. The poll also contains an oversample of 185 interviews to achieve a total of 400 GOP primary voters, and that margin of error is plus-minus 4.9 percentage points.

Growing America’s Outdoor Heritage and Economy

President Obama delivers remarks from a conservation conference (March 2, 2012)
President Barack Obama is seen on a monitor as he delivers remarks during a conservation conference at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., March 2, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
There is no doubt that our nation’s public lands – national parks, refuges, waterways and open spaces – are economic engines that produce and support jobs across the country.
On Tuesday, a report issued by the National Park Service showed that visitors to the National Park System contributed more than $31 billion to local economies and supported 258,000 jobs in 2010, an increase of $689 million and 11,500 jobs over 2009.
These are incredible numbers – and just a slice of the pie when it comes to the economic contributions of our public lands.  For example, recreation in national parks, refuges, and other public lands led to nearly $55 billion and 440,000 jobs in 2009.
That’s part of the reason that President Obama called on his administration to take actions to promote travel and tourism in the United States.  Investing in our parks and public lands and promoting them to visitors, especially internationally, is one way we can make the United States - with all its natural, historic and cultural assets - the top tourist destination in the world.  International travel to the U.S. already supports 1.2 million jobs alone, so our efforts will help bolster job creation.
This is one of the topics we’re discussing today at the White House Conference on Conservation where President Obama and senior members of his Cabinet are meeting with conservation leaders from across the country to strengthen partnerships and identify next steps in advancing community-driven conservation, preservation and outdoor recreation initiatives that are building strong local economies and healthy lands, waters and wildlife.
The White House conference – Growing America’s Outdoor Heritage and Economy – is bringing together hundreds of boaters, hunters, anglers, farmers, ranchers, land conservationists, historic preservationists, outdoor recreationists, small business owners, local governments, tribal leaders and other key stakeholders from around the nation.
The Obama administration has already made great strides on conservation. And, together with our local communities across the country, we can continue the march of progress in implementing President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to create a conservation and outdoor recreation agenda for the 21st century.
Ken Salazar is the Secretary of the Interior

Business Lending Showing New Signs of Strength

Over the past three years, the Obama administration has made it a top priority to increase access to capital for small business owners across America.  When I came to SBA in early 2009, small business owners would say to me, “I need a loan to survive.”  Since that time, SBA has worked hard to provide small businesses with access to capital – even during the depth of the recession. Thanks to the Recovery Act and the Small Business Jobs Act, SBA had a record year in FY2010, supporting more than $30 billion in small business lending across the country.
Now we’re getting encouraging news that business lending is showing new signs of strength. You may have seen that the FDIC recently released data showing that banks had their biggest increase in business lending in four years.   And the Wall Street Journal recently wrote “At Last! Banks Are Making New Loans.” Lately, small business owners are no longer telling me they’re fighting for survival; they’re talking about needing a loan to take advantage of a new opportunity, hire another worker or buy more inventory. There are additional signs that more money is getting into the hands of business owners. The Department of Treasury began receiving reports from the banks that participated in the Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF). Already these financial institutions, mostly community banks, have increased their small business lending by $3.5 billion. And, the 27 states participating in the State Small Business Credit Initiative are also putting the funds to use, supporting lending to small businesses and small manufacturers.
Of course, we all know that even though lending is on the rise, there’s still more to be done. That’s why SBA is working hard to continue filling gaps in the market place. For example, we’re working with some of the largest lenders around the country, who last year committed $20 billion for small business lending over the next three years.  We’re also working to streamline our processes and make it easier for small businesses to benefit from our programs.  We recently revamped the CAPLines program to provide a working line of capital to certain businesses, including manufacturers and government contractors. We also created new programs, such as Small Loan Advantage and Community Advantage, which incentivizes lenders to make small-dollar loans and opens up SBA programs to new lenders, such as CDFIs.
We’re confident that this is just the beginning of the momentum small businesses need to keep growing and creating jobs. Everyone at SBA recognizes that this is a critical time for small businesses, and we’re committed to helping them get the financing they need so they can lay the foundation for an economy built to last.
Karen Mills is Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

President Obama at 2012 AIPAC Policy Conference

March 04, 2012 | 32:58 | Public Domain

The President delivers remarks at the 2012 AIPAC Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center.

Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference

I wanted to make sure saw the President's remarks at the AIPAC Policy Conference. President Obama reaffirmed that "my administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented."

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, good morning, everyone.

Rosy, thank you for your kind words.  I have never seen Rosy on the basketball court.  I'll bet it would be a treat.  (Laughter.)  Rosy, you've been a dear friend of mine for a long time and a tireless advocate for the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States.  And as you complete your term as President, I salute your leadership and your commitment.  (Applause.)

I want to thank the board of directors.  As always, I’m glad to see my long-time friends in the Chicago delegation.  (Applause.)  I also want to thank the members of Congress who are with us here today, and who will be speaking to you over the next few days.  You've worked hard to maintain the partnership between the United States and Israel.  And I especially want to thank my close friend, and leader of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  (Applause.) 

I’m glad that my outstanding young Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, is in the house.  (Applause.)  I understand that Dan is perfecting his Hebrew on his new assignment, and I appreciate his constant outreach to the Israeli people.  And I’m also pleased that we’re joined by so many Israeli officials, including Ambassador Michael Oren.  (Applause.)  And tomorrow, I’m very much looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu and his delegation back to the White House.  (Applause.)

Every time I come to AIPAC, I’m especially impressed to see so many young people here.  (Applause.)  You don't yet get the front seats -- I understand.  (Laughter.)  You have to earn that. But students from all over the country who are making their voices heard and engaging deeply in our democratic debate.  You carry with you an extraordinary legacy of more than six decades of friendship between the United States and Israel.  And you have the opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to make your own mark on the world.  And for inspiration, you can look to the man who preceded me on this stage, who's being honored at this conference -- my friend, President Shimon Peres.  (Applause.)

Shimon was born a world away from here, in a shtetl in what was then Poland, a few years after the end of the first world war.  But his heart was always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people.  (Applause.)  And when he was just a boy he made his journey across land and sea -- toward home.

In his life, he has fought for Israel’s independence, and he has fought for peace and security.  As a member of the Haganah and a member of the Knesset, as a Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, as a Prime Minister and as President -- Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today:  the Jewish state of Israel. (Applause.)  But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might -- not the other way around.  (Applause.) 

Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, “slings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom.”  And he has lived those values.  (Applause.)  He has taught us to ask more of ourselves, and to empathize more with our fellow human beings.  I am grateful for his life’s work and his moral example.  And I'm proud to announce that later this spring, I will invite Shimon Peres to the White House to present him with America’s highest civilian honor -- the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  (Applause.)

In many ways, this award is a symbol of the broader ties that bind our nations.  The United States and Israel share interests, but we also share those human values that Shimon spoke about:  A commitment to human dignity.  A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God’s children.  An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can truly respond to the aspirations of citizens.

America’s Founding Fathers understood this truth, just as Israel’s founding generation did.  President Truman put it well, describing his decision to formally recognize Israel only minutes after it declared independence.  He said, "I had faith in Israel before it was established.  I believe it has a glorious future before it -- as not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization."

For over six decades, the American people have kept that faith.  Yes, we are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share -- in security for our communities, prosperity for our people, the new frontiers of science that can light the world. But ultimately it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship.  That is why America’s commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties.  (Applause.)  In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay.  (Applause.)

AIPAC’s work continually nurtures this bond.  And because of AIPAC’s effectiveness in carrying out its mission, you can expect that over the next several days, you will hear many fine words from elected officials describing their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship.  But as you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words.  You can look at my deeds.  Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel.  At every crucial juncture -- at every fork in the road -- we have been there for Israel.  Every single time.  (Applause.)

Four years ago, I stood before you and said that, "Israel’s security is sacrosanct.  It is non-negotiable."  That belief has guided my actions as President.  The fact is, my administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented.  Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer.  (Applause.)  Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust.  Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every single year.  (Applause.)  We are investing in new capabilities.  We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology -- the types of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies.  And make no mistake: We will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge -- because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.  (Applause.)

This isn’t just about numbers on a balance sheet.  As a senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border.  I visited with families who’ve known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot.  And that’s why, as President, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes and hospitals and schools in that town and in others.  (Applause.)  Now our assistance is expanding Israel’s defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles.  Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.

And just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we've been there through our diplomacy.  When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it.  (Applause.)  When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them.  (Applause.)  When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism.  (Applause.)

When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them.  When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them.  (Applause.)  When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them.  (Applause.)  And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them.  (Applause.)  So there should not be a shred of doubt by now -- when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.  (Applause.) 

Which is why, if during this political season -- (laughter) -- you hear some questions regarding my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts.  And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics.  America’s national security is too important.  Israel’s security is too important.  (Applause.)

Of course, there are those who question not my security and diplomatic commitments, but rather my administration’s ongoing pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  So let me say this:  I make no apologies for pursuing peace.  Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of peace.  Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres -- each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.  I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel’s security interest.  (Applause.)

The reality that Israel faces -- from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment -- demands a resolution of this issue.  And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel’s founding values -- because of our shared belief in self-determination, and because Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected.  (Applause.)

Of course, peace is hard to achieve.  There’s a reason why it's remained elusive for six decades.  The upheaval and uncertainty in Israel’s neighborhood makes it that much harder -- from the horrific violence raging in Syria, to the transition in Egypt.  And the division within the Palestinian leadership makes it harder still -- most notably, with Hamas’s continued rejection of Israel’s very right to exist.

But as hard as it may be, we should not, and cannot, give in to cynicism or despair.  The changes taking place in the region make peace more important, not less.  And I've made it clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met.  (Applause.)  That's why we continue to press Arab leaders to reach out to Israel, and will continue to support the peace treaty with Egypt.  That’s why -- just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace -- we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, and reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements.  (Applause.)  And that is why my administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties.  (Applause.)

As Rosy noted, last year, I stood before you and pledged that, "the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations."  As you know, that pledge has been kept.  (Applause.)  Last September, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed that any lasting peace must acknowledge the fundamental legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns.  I said that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, our friendship with Israel is enduring, and that Israel must be recognized.  No American President has made such a clear statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time.  People usually give those speeches before audiences like this one -- not before the General Assembly.  (Applause.)

And I must say, there was not a lot of applause.  (Laughter.)  But it was the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  And as a result, today there is no doubt -- anywhere in the world -- that the United States will insist upon Israel’s security and legitimacy.  (Applause.)  That will be true as we continue our efforts to pursue -- in the pursuit of peace.  And that will be true when it comes to the issue that is such a focus for all of us today:  Iran’s nuclear program -- a threat that has the potential to bring together the worst rhetoric about Israel’s destruction with the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Let’s begin with a basic truth that you all understand:  No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.  (Applause.)  And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders.

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests.  But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States.  (Applause.) 

Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we've done so much to build.  There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization.  It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world's most volatile regions.  It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.

And that is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  And that is what we have done.  (Applause.) 

When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters.  Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad push back from the world.  In the region, Iran was ascendant -- increasingly popular, and extending its reach.  In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward.

And so from my very first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime:  a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don't.  In fact, our policy of engagement -- quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime -- allowed us to rally the international community as never before, to expose Iran’s intransigence, and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.

Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before.  Some of you will recall, people predicted that Russia and China wouldn’t join us to move toward pressure.  They did.  And in 2010 the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort.  Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime.  They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011.  Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran’s Central Bank and oil exports.  But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us.  And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions.

That is where we are today -- because of our work.  Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure.  And by the way, the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally -- the Assad regime -- is crumbling.

Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unresolved.  The effective implementation of our policy is not enough -- we must accomplish our objective.  (Applause.)  And in that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy -- backed by pressure -- to succeed.

The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program.  Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists.  Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July -- thanks to our diplomatic coordination -- a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold.  (Applause.)  Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision.  They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end.

And given their history, there are, of course, no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice.  But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically.  After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons.  That’s what history tells us.

Moreover, as President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war.  (Applause.)  I have sent men and women into harm’s way.  I've seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who've come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don’t make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency.  And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.  And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically.  Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States -- (applause) -- just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.  (Applause.)

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.  (Applause.)  That includes all elements of American power:  A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.  (Applause.) 

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  (Applause.)  And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.  (Applause.) 

Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues; the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world.  Already, there is too much loose talk of war.  Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.  For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.  Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built.  Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt:  Speak softly; carry a big stick.  (Applause.)  And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.

These are challenging times.  But we've been through challenging times before, and the United States and Israel have come through them together.  Because of our cooperation, citizens in both our countries have benefited from the bonds that bring us together.  I'm proud to be one of those people.  In the past, I've shared in this forum just why those bonds are so personal for me:  the stories of a great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald, to my memories of returning there with Elie Wiesel; from sharing books with President Peres to sharing seders with my young staff in a tradition that started on the campaign trail and continues in the White House; from the countless friends I know in this room to the concept of tikkun olam that has enriched and guided my life.  (Applause.) 

As Harry Truman understood, Israel’s story is one of hope. We may not agree on every single issue -- no two nations do, and our democracies contain a vibrant diversity of views.  But we agree on the big things -- the things that matter.  And together, we are working to build a better world -- one where our people can live free from fear; one where peace is founded upon justice; one where our children can know a future that is more hopeful than the present.

There is no shortage of speeches on the friendship between the United States and Israel.  But I'm also mindful of the proverb, "A man is judged by his deeds, not his words."  So if you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done -- to stand up for Israel; to secure both of our countries; and to see that the rough waters of our time lead to a peaceful and prosperous shore.  (Applause.) 

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless the people of Israel.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

President Obama Speaks at Conference on Conservation

March 02, 2012 | 14:33

Effective conservation is about more than protecting the environment, it's about strengthening the economy. 

Remarks by the President at Conservation Conference

Department of Interior
Washington, D.C.
5:32 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Everybody, have a seat.  Have a seat.  (Applause.)  Well, it is good to have all of you in here. Welcome to Washington.
I want to thank Ken Salazar for the introduction.  Did everybody know that it's his birthday today?  (Laughter.)  All right -- has he milked that enough?  (Laughter.)  I just want to make sure everybody wished him a happy birthday.  Turning 40 is tough.  (Laughter.)
We’ve also got our outstanding Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, in the house.  (Applause.)  Our wonderful EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, is with us.  (Applause.)  And I want to thank all of you for being a part of this conference.
Now, I have to say that this is a pretty diverse group here today.  We’ve got hunters and fishermen; we've got farmers and ranchers; we've got conservationists; we've got small business owners; we've got local government leaders; we've got tribal leaders.  And some of you may have just wandered in -- I don't know.  (Laughter.)  But you’re all here for the same reason.  Each of you has a deep appreciation for the incredible natural resources, the incredible bounty that we’ve been blessed with as a nation.  And you’re working hard every day to make sure those resources are around for my daughters and your children and hopefully their children to enjoy.
Doing that takes creativity.  The great Aldo Leopold once said that conservation is "a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution."  It's not just about doing nothing; it's about doing something affirmative to make sure that we are passing on this incredible blessing that we have.  And you also know that effective conservation is about more than just protecting our environment -- it’s about strengthening our economy.  When we put in place new common-sense rules to reduce air pollution, like we did in December, it was to prevent our kids from breathing in dangerous chemicals.  That's something we should all be able to agree on.  But it will also create new jobs, building and installing all sorts of pollution control technology.  And since it will prevent thousands of heart attacks and cases of childhood asthma, it will also take some strain off our health care system.
When we make a commitment to restore a million acres of grasslands and wetlands and wildlife habitat -- like the Department of Agriculture and Interior did today -- we’re not just preserving our land and water for the next generation.  We’re also making more land available for hunting and fishing.  And we’re bolstering an outdoor economy that supports more than 9 million jobs and brings in more than a trillion dollars a year.  (Applause.)
And when we make it easier to visit this country -- like we've done recently at accelerating the process for foreign travelers to get visas -- we’re not just boosting tourism in big cities and places like Disney World.  We’re helping more people discover our parks and our mountains and our beaches.  And more visitors means more people renting cars and staying in hotels and eating at our restaurants and buying our equipment.
So the work you’re doing today is important if we’re going to grow our economy and put more people back to work.  But conservation is also important when it comes to another issue that I’ve been talking about lately, and that's developing new sources of American-made energy.
Obviously, gas prices are on a lot of folks’ minds right now.  And we’re getting another painful reminder of why developing new energy is so important for our future.  Of course, because it’s an election year, everybody is trotting out their  3-point plans for $2.00 gas.  And you know what that involves, is you drill and then you drill and then you drill some more.  We’ve heard this for 30 years.
The American people know better.  They understand we can’t just drill our way out of high gas prices.  We’re doing everything we can to boost U.S. production.  But if we’re going to take control of our energy future and avoid these gas price spikes in the future, then we’ve got to have a sustained, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy -– yes, oil and gas, but also wind and solar and biofuels, and more.
And we’re making progress on this front.  In 2010, our dependence on foreign oil was under 50 percent for the first time in 13 years.  (Applause.)  Because of the investments we’ve made, the use of clean, renewable energy in this country has nearly doubled.  (Applause.)  And in my State of the Union address, I announced that we’re allowing the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes -– 3 million homes.  That protects our environment and it helps families and businesses save money.
But while it’s important to use public lands to develop things like wind and solar energy, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we’ve also got to focus on protecting our planet.
That’s why Teddy Roosevelt made sure that as we build this country and harvest its bounty, we also protect its beauty. That’s part of our national character.  And historically, it’s been bipartisan.
That’s why, even as our country grew by leaps and bounds, we made sure to set aside places like the Grand Canyon for our children and our grandchildren.  It’s why my administration has stood up to protect its waters.  That’s why President Kennedy directed a portion of the revenues from oil and gas production to help communities build trails and ball fields –- and why my administration has fought to protect the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  (Applause.)

That’s why the hunters and anglers in this country have always been willing to pay a few extra bucks for a fishing license or a duck stamp that helps protect streams and habitats  -- because they want to make sure that their grandkids can enjoy these same pastimes.  That’s why my administration is expanding access to public lands so that more Americans can cast a rod or teach their children how to hunt.
We have to keep investing in the technology and manufacturing that helps us lead the world, but we’ve also got to protect the places that help define who we are, that help shape our character and our soul as a nation.  Places that help attract visitors and create jobs, but that also give something to our kids that is irreplaceable.
And all of us have a role to play.  One of the first bills I signed after taking office was the Public Lands bill that protected more than a thousand miles of rivers and established new national parks and trails.  (Applause.)  And two years ago, thanks to some great work by my Cabinet, and Ken Salazar especially, I kicked off the America’s Great Outdoors initiative to support conservation projects happening in all 50 states, including Fort Monroe in Virginia, which just became America’s 396th national park.  (Applause.)
Right now, we’re restoring the River of Grass in the Everglades, providing clean water to millions of residents -- (applause) -- creating thousands of jobs -- construction jobs -- in southern Florida.
We need to keep moving forward on projects like these.  And I know we’ve got ranchers and farmers and landowners here today who represent places like the Crown of the Continent in Montana, the Dakota Grasslands, and everywhere in between.  We need to keep working to protect these incredible landscapes that all of you know so well.
The bottom line is this:  There will always be people in this country who say we’ve got to choose between clean air and clean water and a growing economy, between doing right by our environment and putting people back to work.  And I’m here to tell you that is a false choice.  (Applause.)  That is a false choice.  (Applause.)  With smart, sustainable policies, we can grow our economy today and protect our environment for ourselves and our children.
We know it’s possible.  And we know it because of what’s been happening in communities like yours, where compromise isn’t a dirty word, where folks can recognize a good idea no matter where it comes from.
A while back, I heard a story about the Rogue River in Oregon.  Every year, the Rogue is filled with salmon swimming upstream to spawn.  But because factories were allowed to -- allowing warm water to run back into the river, the temperature was becoming too high for the salmon to survive.  So to fix the problem, the town could have required the company to buy expensive cooling equipment, but that would have hurt the local economy.  Instead, they decided to pay farmers and ranchers to plant trees along the banks of the river, and that helped to cool the water at a fraction of the cost.  So it worked for business; it worked for farmers; it worked for salmon.
And those are the kinds of ideas that we need in this country -– ideas that preserve our environment, protect our bottom line, and connect more Americans to the great outdoors.
And this is personally important to me.  Some of you know that I grew up in Hawaii mostly, and we got some pretty nice outdoors in Hawaii.  (Laughter.)  And you spend a lot of time outdoors, and you learn very early on to appreciate this incredible splendor.  But I remember when I was 11, I had never been to the mainland, and my grandmother and my mother and my sister, who at the time was two, decided we were going to take a big summer trip.  And we traveled across the country.  And mostly we took Greyhound buses.  My grandmother was getting -- she had some eye problems, and so she couldn’t see that well, so she was a little nervous about driving long distances.  Sometimes we took the train.  And we went to the usual spots -- Disneyland.  I was 11, right?  (Laughter.)
But I still remember traveling up to Yellowstone, and coming over a hill, and suddenly just hundreds of deer and seeing bison for the first time, and seeing Old Faithful.  And I remember that trip giving me a sense of just how immense and how grand this country was, and how diverse it was -- and watching folks digging for clams in Puget Sound, and watching ranchers, and seeing our first Americans guide me through a canyon in Arizona.  And it gave you a sense of just what it is that makes America special.
And so when I went back to Yellowstone, with Ken and my daughters -- that was the first time they had been -- and I'm standing there -- I'm thinking not only about them and the first time they're seeing this, but I'm also remembering back to when my grandmother and my mother had shown me this amazing country so many years before.
And that is part of what we have to fight for.  That's what's critical, is making sure that we're always there to bequeath that gift to the next generation.  (Applause.)  And if you'll work with me, I promise I'll do everything I can -- (applause) -- I'll do everything I can to help protect our economy but also protect this amazing planet that we love and this great country that we've been blessed with.
Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless America.
5:46 P.M. EST