Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thank Pepsi for GLBT Support!

Click here to thank Pepsi yourself!

Reply from to me

Thank you for contacting us at PepsiCo and for sharing your thoughts.

As a company, we made a commitment to promote and support diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our business. We’re proud of the success we’ve had in attracting some of the best and the brightest from around the world and in building a workforce that is truly reflective of the consumers we serve.

The PepsiCo Foundation grants deal solely and specifically with workplace-oriented initiatives, and they include direct support of programs that are respectful of all people and their human rights.

At PepsiCo, diversity and inclusion are among the values we have adopted for ourselves in the workplace because we see them as important to our viability and success—as individual employees and as a company. And we believe strongly that these values will enhance other businesses and work environments as well.

Thanks for allowing us to share this information with you.

Equality Maine's YouTube Video for Marriage Equality

Our Mission
EqualityMaine is Maine's oldest and largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) political advocacy organization. Our members and supporters hail from every region of the state, brought together by a common goal: making equality a reality for all citizens.

We work to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the state through political action, education, and collaboration. We envision a Maine in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families have full equality in the hearts and minds of Maine people, and in all areas of the law.

Our Goals:

-To build political power for the LGBT community.

-To ensure that Maine’s hate crimes laws are LGBT inclusive.

-To ensure that Maine’s civil rights laws are LGBT inclusive.

-To ensure that Maine’s family laws, including marriage, are LGBT inclusive.

-To defeat anti-LGBT legislation and referenda.

-To repeal anti-LGBT laws and statutes.

Contact Us
Mail: P.O. Box 1951, Portland, ME 04104
Phone: (207) 761-3732
Fax: (207) 761-3752
General email:

Get Involved
Maine Marriage Equality: Help Make it Happen

The campaign for marriage equality has begun, and there will be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved. We'll need volunteers to help in the office and in the field -- working in regions across the state -- so sign up now and let us know if you can help.

Please use our sign-up form and choose "Maine Marriage Equality" from the volunteer options.

Election Day Wrap-Up: Data Entry

Our historic Election Day action collected over 33,000 postcards from voters who support marriage for same-sex couples. Now it's time to enter them into our database -- it's a big job, and we need help doing it.

If you can get to the EqualityMaine office in downtown Portland, we can put you to work for an hour, two hours, however much time you can spare. Please use our sign-up form and choose "33,000 Voters for Marriage Equality" from the volunteer options.

General Office Work
Preparing mailings, making phone calls, stuffing envelopes, running errands... we can always use help, even if it's just for one afternoon. Please use our sign-up form and choose "General Office Work" from the volunteer options.

Events Main
Celebrating 25 Years - Tickets on Sale Now!

EqualityMaine's 25th Anniversary Dinner: March 21, 2009, 5:30 p.m.
Holiday Inn By the Bay, Portland
Presenting Sponsor: University of Maine Farmington

Community Events
To submit a community event listing, email and provide the date and time of your event, the location, contact information and cost, as well as a brief description. Many of the community events listed here come courtesy of Jean Vermette's Family Affairs Newsletter. To subscribe, email Jean at EqualityMaine is not a sponsor or organizer for these events. Please direct any questions or comments to the contact listed.

Make a contribution and help make full equality a reality.

In the upcoming months our support, both financially and in person will be needed by our northern neighbors not only in Maine, but in NH and VT as well. If you have done something to help already, great, now ask what ELSE you can do! We don't want an East coast version of Prop. 8 sneaking by in our back yards, do we? Let shame be on the people who deserve it, don't let it fall so close to "The Cradle of Liberty." Remember that our opponents are already massing against our friends, we have a responsibility to help them.

"We shall not remember the words of our enemies, but rather the silence of our friends." Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Equality Maine, we here at Live, Love, and Learn salute you!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

President Barack Obama's Address to Joint Session of Congress

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It begins with energy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are not quitters.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dr. Patricia A. Gozemba, Author of "Courting Equality", Reports on Hawaii's Current Civil Union Battle

Dr. Gozemba reporting on scene in Honolulu:

"Honolulu, February 22–Misguided Christian fundamentalists, many of whom are politicians, rallied approximately 2,000 of their flock to the Hawai’i state capitol to try to give credence to the point that the downfall of civilization is epitomized by the granting of the civil right of civil unions to same-sex couples. Across town, LGBT people and their allies peacefully stood up for themselves.

Tara O’Neill captured the faces of some of these folks. She skillfully juxtaposes their faces with the aspirational words of our President Barack Obama and patriotic music.

My wife Karen Kahn and I are happy to be in this video, Support HB 444. Spread the word about this video to your friends and allies!" had this to say:

"A bill that would give same-sex couples in Hawaii all of the rights of marriage has passed the state House on a 33-17 vote. It now moves to the Senate. The measure would legalize civil unions with all of the benefits, protections and responsibilities of marriage. It also would recognize domestic partnerships entered into in other states. Marriages from Massachusetts and Connecticut would be regarded as civil unions."
(Click here for the full story)

The vote in Senate is expected Tuesday Feb. 24, 2009 and support is reported to be divided.

Dr. Gozemba and Karen Kahn are two of the three authors of "Courting Equality", a book of obvious historic value filled with none other than the sensational photographs of Bay Windows famous photographer Marilyn Humphries, last but not least in this trio. Be sure to visit their site and consider purchasing a copy for yourself or your loved ones.

Monday, February 23, 2009

President Obama Announces $15 Billion in Medicaid Relief from ARRA Headed To States

Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) funding available for states on Wednesday in special Treasury accounts

Moving swiftly to bring real relief to Americans hit hard by the economic crisis, President Barack Obama announced today that states will be able to access the first two quarters of Federal Medical Assistance Percentage funding (FMAP) starting this Wednesday, February 25. FMAP – the federal match for Medicare – helps pay for health care for the families struggling during the economic crisis and some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. More than 20 million Americans rely on Medicaid for health care coverage. The President made the announcement at a meeting of the nation’s governors at the White House.

“This plan will also help ensure that you don’t need to make cuts to essential services Americans rely on now more than ever,” the President told the Nation’s Governors in a meeting at the White House this morning. “To show you we’re serious about putting this recovery plan into action swiftly, I am announcing today that this Wednesday, our administration will begin distributing more than $15 billion in federal assistance under the Recovery Act to help you cover the costs of your Medicaid programs.”

"That means that by the time most of you get home; money will be waiting to help 20 million vulnerable Americans in your states keep their health coverage. Children with asthma will be able to breathe easier, seniors won’t need to fear losing their doctors, and pregnant women with limited means won’t need to worry about the health of their babies.”

A chart detailing funding by state can be found HERE.

Beginning Wednesday, February 25, the first installment of more than $15 billion included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be available to States.

The first two quarters of FY 2009 funding for states has been set up in special Treasury accounts so that states, the District of Columbia, and the territories can start drawing down on those funds. This special, temporary increase in funding will be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

States will need to meet Medicaid eligibility requirements outlined in the law to receive the new funding. CMS will be working with the States to ensure they meet the requirements as long as they wish to access the increased in Medicaid funding.

Please find below the President and Vice President’s remarks to the Governors as delivered:


State Dining Room

10:29 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Everybody, please have a seat.

First of all, thanks for not breaking anything last night. (Laughter.) Thank you also for waiting until I had left before you started the Congo line. I don't know whether Rendell was responsible for that -- (laughter) -- but I hear it was quite a spectacle. Michelle and I just had a wonderful time last night and I hope all of you enjoyed it. It was a great kick-off of what we hope will be an atmosphere here in the White House that is welcoming and that reminds everybody that this is the people's house. We are just temporary occupants. This is a place that belongs to the American people and we want to make sure that everybody understands it's open.

Almost three months ago, we came together in Philadelphia to listen to one another, to share ideas, and to try to push some of our ideology rigidity aside to formulate a recovery plan that would bring some relief to your states and to the American people.

And I want to thank so many of you who were active throughout this process to get the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act done. I don't want to single out too many folks, but Governor Rendell, Governor Douglas, worked tirelessly. We had people like Governor Patrick and Governor Schweitzer, Schwarzenegger, Crist, who were out there consistently promoting the plan. And as a consequence we got this passed through Congress in record time.

Because of what we did together, this plan will save or create at least 3.5 million jobs in every state across the country. It will keep your police officers on the beat, your firefighters on the job, your teachers in the classroom. It will provide expanded unemployment insurance and protect health care for your residents who have been laid off. And beginning April 1st, it will put more money back into the pockets of 95 percent of your working families.

So this plan will ensure that you don't need to make cuts to essential services that Americans rely on now more than ever. And to show you we're serious about putting this recovery plan into action swiftly, I'm announcing today that this Wednesday, our administration will begin distributing more than $15 billion in federal assistance under the Recovery Act to help you cover the costs of your Medicaid programs -- I know something that is going to be of great relief to many of you.

That means that by the time most of you get home; money will be waiting to help 20 million vulnerable Americans in your states keep their health care coverage. (Applause.) Children with asthma will be able to breathe easier, seniors won't need to fear losing their doctors, and pregnant women with limited means won't have to worry about the health of their babies. So let me be clear, though: This is not a blank check. I know you've heard this repeatedly over the last few days, but I want to reiterate it: These funds are intended to go directly towards helping struggling Americans keep their health coverage, we want to make sure that's what's happening and we're going to work with you closely to make sure that this money is spent the way it's supposed to.

We will get the rest of this plan moving to put Americans to work doing the work America needs done, making an immediate impact while laying the foundation for our lasting growth and prosperity.

These are the steps we're taking to help you turn this crisis into opportunity and pave the way for future prosperity. But I know that many of you, rather than wait for Washington, have already made your states. You are innovators and much of the work that you've done has already made a lasting impact and change in people's lives. Instead of debating the existence of climate change, governors like the seven of you of you working together in the western climate initiative, and the 10 of you who are working together on the regional greenhouse gas initiative are leading the way in environmental and energy policy. Instead of waiting around for the jobs of the future, governors like Governor Gregoire and Governor Granholm have sparked the creation of cutting-edge companies and tens of thousands of new green jobs. And instead of passing the buck on accountability and efficiency, governors like Martin O'Malley and Governor Kaine, have revolutionized performance management systems, showing the American people precisely how their governments are working for them.

The point that I made yesterday, or last night, is something that I want to reiterate, though. You shouldn't be succeeding despite Washington; you should be succeeding with a hand from Washington, and that's what we intend to give you in this administration. In return, we'll expect a lot from you as the hard work of making the recovery plan's promise a reality begins.

And that's why I'm announcing today that I'm asking my Vice President, Joe Biden, to oversee our administration's implementation efforts. Beginning this week, Joe will meet regularly with key members of my Cabinet to make sure our efforts are not just swift, but also efficient and effective. Joe is also going to work closely with you, our nation's governors, as well as our mayors and everyone else involved in this effort, to keep things on track. And the fact that I'm asking my Vice President to personally lead this effort shows how important it is for our country and our future to get this right, and I thank him for his willingness to take on this critical task. (Applause.)

In the coming weeks, we're also going to appoint some of the nation's best managers and public officials to work with the Vice President on this effort. And I'm pleased to make the first of those announcements today with the appointment of Earl Devaney as the chair of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board. Where did Earl go? There he is. Stand up, Earl, so everybody can see you. (Applause.)

For nearly a decade as Inspector General at the Interior Department, Earl has doggedly pursued waste, fraud and mismanagement. He has the reputation of being one of the best IGs that we have in this town. And Joe and I can't think of a more tenacious and efficient guardian of the hard-earned tax dollars the American people have entrusted us to wisely invest. I pointed out just when I saw him -- he looks like an inspector there -- (laughter) -- he's tough, you know, he barely cracks a smile. Earl is here with us today. I thank him for his willingness to take on this difficult new assignment.

And I expect each of you to approach implementation of this recovery plan with the same seriousness of purpose and the same sense of accountability -- because the American people are watching. They need this plan to work. And they expect to see their money spent in its intended purpose.

And that's why we've created -- a web site so that every American can go online to see how their money is spent, and hold their federal, state, and local officials to the high standards that they expect. And I want to applaud Governors Kaine, Patrick, and Strickland for already having created their own recovery implementation web sites to allow for the monitoring and accountability at the local level. I encourage every one of you to follow suit.

Let me be clear: We cannot tolerate business as usual -- not in Washington, but also not in our state capitals. With Mr. Devaney's leadership, we will use the new tools that the recovery act gives us to watch the taxpayers' money with more rigor and transparency than ever.

If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will put a stop to it. But I want everybody here to be on notice that if a state government does the same, then I will call them out on it, and use the full power of my office and our administration to stop it.

We are addressing the greatest economic crisis we have seen in decades by investing unprecedented amounts of the American people's hard-earned money. And with that comes an unprecedented obligation to do so wisely, free from politics and personal agendas. And on this I will not compromise or tolerate shortcuts. The American people are looking to us for leadership, and it falls on us now to reward their faith and build a better future for our country. And I have every confidence that we can all do this.

Let me make one last point and then I'm going to bring Joe up. There has been some healthy debate over the last few weeks, last few days, about this stimulus package, even among the governors. And I think that's a healthy debate. And that keeps me on my toes. It keeps our administration on our toes. But I just want us to not lose perspective of the fact that most of the things that have been the topic of argument over the last several days amount to a fraction of the overall stimulus package. This sometimes gets lost in the cable chatter.

For example, I think there are some very legitimate concerns on the part of some about the sustainability of expanding unemployment insurance. What hasn't been noted is, is that that is $7 billion of a $787 billion program. And it's not even the majority of the expansion of unemployment insurance. So it is possible for those who are concerned about sustaining a change that increases eligibility for part-time workers to still see the benefit of $30 billion-plus that is going even if you don't make the change.

So the reason I make that point is, I just want to make sure that we're having an honest debate and presenting to the American people a fulsome accounting of what is going on in this program. You know, when I hear people say, well, there's a lot of waste in this program -- well, from my perspective at least, keeping teachers in the classroom is not wasteful. From my perspective, tax cuts to 95 percent of working families is not wasteful. From my perspective, providing all of you additional resources to rebuild roads and bridges and levees and dams that will enhance the quality of life of your state but also make it more economically competitive, that's not wasteful.

And so if we agree on 90 percent of the stuff, and we're spending all our time on television arguing about 1, 2, 3 percent of the spending in this thing and somehow it's being characterized in broad brush as wasteful spending, that starts sounding more like politics -- and that's what right now we don't have time to do.

So I will always be open to honest disagreements, and I think there are some legitimate concerns that can be raised on a whole host of these issues. And you're responsible at the state level, and if the federal government gives you something now, and then two years later it's gone, and people are looking to you and starting to blame you, I don't want to put you in that position. And so you need to think about how this money is going to be spent wisely.

What I don't want us to do, though, is to just get caught up in the same old stuff that inhibits us from acting effectively and in concert. There's going to be ample time for campaigns down the road. Right now we've got to make sure that we're standing up for the American people and putting them back to work. All right.


THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. President. Thanks for this assignment. I look forward to working with all of you. Earl Devaney is probably the best-known Inspector General we have in the whole operation. And I think you'll find him very helpful. And the Cabinet is ready to go to work. We're ready to work with all of you. And so, I have a simple message: Let's get to work, let's make this work.

Friday, February 20, 2009

GOVERNOR PATRICK ANNOUNCES Transportation and Economic Security Plan

Plan Reforms Big-Dig Culture, Rebuilds Trust and Transparency to Help Secure the Commonwealth’s Economic Future

BOSTON – Friday, February 20, 2009 – Governor Deval Patrick today announced his vision for a comprehensive reform plan to radically simplify the Commonwealth’s transportation system, while addressing serious fiscal challenges stemming from decades of neglect and inaction, and a failed bureaucracy under the “Big Dig” culture.

Governor Patrick’s Transportation and Economic Security Plan incorporates recommendations from the Transportation Finance Commission Report that uncovered decades of inaction and neglect under previous administrations. After receiving this report in 2007, Governor Patrick started to develop a plan to secure the Commonwealth’s economic future and maintain safety of the state’s roads and bridges.

The Transportation and Economic Security Plan, which builds on innovative reforms proposed by Senate President Therese Murray, follows an aggressive two-year reform effort led by the Patrick Administration that has saved taxpayers $83 million in savings and efficiencies throughout the transportation bureaucracy.

“The days of irresponsibility, of avoiding the truth and the consequences, must end and end now. We are all out of time. Now is the time to reform, rebuild and renew our system from top to bottom,” said Governor Patrick. “The good news is that right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to coordinate federal stimulus funds, state capital money, our accelerated bridge program, and the reforms in the Transportation and Economic Security Plan to make our roads and bridges safer, grow jobs, and build a strong economic future.”

Reforming the Big Dig Culture

The Commonwealth's transportation system faces an estimated $15 to $19 billion funding gap in the next 20 years to maintain the current network of roads, bridges and transit for safe, reliable service. A 2007 report issued by the Transportation Finance Commission stated: “The cost of this neglect will be felt in our regional economy and in our way of life. … Business as usual will not suffice.”

Crushing debt and substandard management from the Big Dig has siphoned much-needed dollars away from maintenance and operations, and fed a culture of out-of-scale benefits, inefficiencies and a lack of accountability.

Under Governor Patrick’s leadership, the transportation agencies and authorities have generated more than $83 million in savings and efficiencies through transportation reform efforts, while working on a long-term reform plan. Those reforms include:

Joining 49 other states in using civilian flaggers on construction projects
Streamlining project delivery time at MassHighway by 40%
Saving $47 million at the MBTA by reducing overtime costs and staff levels and increasing employee health care contributions.
Saving $31 million at the Turnpike by eliminating middle management and toll takers
With the legislature’s support, launching the Accelerated Bridge Repair Program to address the backlog of maintenance projects left by previous administrations

Patrick Reform Plan: A Unified Transportation Agency

In spite of these efforts, it is necessary to implement reforms that radically simplify the current system to build a modern transportation network that is adequately funded and professionally managed to help secure our economic future.

Governor Patrick and his transportation team, led by Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr., have put forward a comprehensive reorganization plan that builds a unified and transparent transportation system through the following reforms:

Creates a consolidated Executive Office of Transportation with four Divisions: Highway, Rail & Transit, Aviation & Port, and Registry of Motor Vehicles
Abolishes the Turnpike Authority and create one highway, tunnel, and bridge system
Consolidates state aviation assets
Creates an Office of Performance Management to ensure public accountability and transparency
Enacts all Transportation Finance Commission Reform (TFC) Recommendations, including creation of a Private Project Ombudsman to streamline project development, which could save $2.5 billion over 20 years

Renewing Investments to Secure Economic Future

In addition to simplifying the system, the Commonwealth must address significant long-term financial challenges throughout its transportation agencies and authorities. The Transportation and Economic Security Plan will help pay down debt and make sound, sustainable investments to fix crumbling roads and bridges and secure the state’s economic future. The plan includes the following reforms:

Restructuring and simplifying our transportation bureaucracy, including abolishing the Turnpike Authority
Ending the “23 and out” special perk in the MBTA pension system
Bringing the Turnpike and MBTA employees into the state health care system
Increasing accountability and transparency throughout the transportation system
Making our transportation system more environmentally-responsible
Streamlining operations and eliminating 300 positions
Working to move MassHighway personnel off the capital budget and back onto the regular payroll
Increasing the state fuel tax to pay down debt and avoid toll and fare increases, while exploring innovative solutions to start phasing out the fuel tax, such as using a pilot GPS-based technology to collect fees electronically.

The plan proposes a fuel tax increase of 19 cents – approximately $8 per month for most drivers. Future increases would follow the Consumer Price Index (an essential component that the state failed to do last time). The gas tax has not been increased since 1991. The Governor said he will not support an increase in the gas tax without several other restructurings and reforms outlined in his plan.

The plan is transparent and accountable on the new revenue from the gas tax, accounting for and dedicating each new penny to a specific transportation initiative:

4 cents to roll back the proposed toll increases on the Turnpike
6 cents to preserve current MBTA services and prevent a fare increase
1 cent for Innovative Gas and Toll Solutions
1.5 cents for Regional Transit Authorities
1.5 cents for targeted regional road projects
3 cents for rail projects outside of Boston
2 cents to address the costly practice of paying for personnel with bond funds

“Raising the gas tax is a last resort, and without it, our economy will suffer,” said Governor Patrick. “Our long-term job growth and economic security, along with the safety of our roads and bridges, depends upon both major reforms and new revenue now.”

“We must act immediately to free our transportation system from the stranglehold of debt so we can finally make the long-awaited investments necessary to improve service and reliability,” said Secretary Aloisi. “Our goal is to build an open and accountable transportation agency for future generations that supports economic growth, regional equity and responsible environmental stewardship.”

Creating a “Greener” Transportation System

The transportation sector is the largest and fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the region. The Transportation and Economic Security Plan will make the state’s transportation system more environmentally responsible through “Green” initiatives that encourage more fuel-efficient vehicles and “Buy and Build Green” provisions.

These initiatives will encourage environmentally responsible practices and give people the opportunity to drive less with increased access to transit, bicycling and walking:

Unprecedented public transportation investments outside of Greater Boston
Mandates Massport to participate in public transportation initiatives serving its facilities
Authorizes a “green car” sliding scale for new automobile registration fees
Adopts and implements “Buy Green” and “Build Green” provisions
Authorizes “Complete Streets” Initiative to encourage bicycling and walking

Encouraging Civic Engagement

Keeping to Governor Patrick’s commitment to transparency and encouraging civic engagement, additional information is posted online at the Executive Office of Transportation's You Move Massachusetts website at

The website will allow residents to download and view documents, submit comments and track progress of the reform plan through a new blog and updates from Secretary Aloisi and transportation officials.

President Obama Extends Gulf Coast Rebuilding Office

Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release February 20, 2009

Obama Extends Gulf Coast Rebuilding Office; Sends Cabinet Members to Gulf Coast and New Orleans

Washington, D.C. – President Barack Obama Friday signed an executive order extending the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding. The President also announced that he has asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to tour the Gulf Coast and New Orleans in early March.

The executive order that established the office was set to expire on February 28. President Obama extended the office through the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2009.

“The residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast who are helping rebuild are heroes who believe in their communities and they are succeeding despite the fact that they have not always received the support they deserve from the Federal government,” President Obama said. “This executive order is a first step of a sustained commitment by my Administration to rebuild now, stronger than ever.”

Demonstrating the Obama Administration’s commitment to rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the President also announced that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan would tour the Gulf Coast on March 5 and 6 to assess rebuilding efforts.

“In the coming weeks, I will dispatch Secretaries Napolitano and Donovan to see first-hand the progress made in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and report back on the needs they see in the region. We must ensure that the failures of the past are never repeated. My Administration is committed to strengthening our preparedness, response, and recovery efforts,” President Obama said.

The mission of the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding is to identify and help address the priority needs for long-term rebuilding by working with the people on the ground and with decision makers in Washington.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


The White House announced today that the President and First Lady will welcome the National Governors Association to the White House on Sunday, February 22nd for the 2009 Governors’ Dinner. The evening will feature performances by the Marine Corps band and music legends Earth Wind and Fire.

“The White House is the place where our bond as Americans is strengthened,” said Desiree Rogers, White House Social Secretary. “We look forward to welcoming the nation’s governors to celebrate our democratic ideals, our diversity, our shared values and the best of the American spirit.”

Further details about the event will be released in the coming days.

President Barack Obama Announces Key White House Posts

WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, President Barack Obama announced the following White House posts: Adolfo Carrion, White House Director of Urban Affairs and Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs.

President Barack Obama said, “I look forward to working with these talented leaders to bring long overdue attention to the urban areas where 80 percent of the American people live and work. Vibrant cities spawn innovation, economic growth, and cultural enrichment; the Urban Affairs office will focus on wise investments and development in our urban areas that will create employment and housing opportunities and make our country more competitive, prosperous, and strong.”

President Obama and Vice President Biden created the White House Office of Urban Affairs to develop a strategy for metropolitan America and to ensure that all federal dollars targeted to urban areas are effectively spent on the highest-impact programs. The Director of Urban Affairs will report directly to the president and coordinate all federal urban programs.

The following announcements were made today:

Adolfo Carrion, White House Director of Urban Affairs- Carrion has served two terms as Bronx Borough President and one term as the President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). As Bronx Borough President, Carrion oversaw the creation of 40,000 new units of housing in seven years, 50 new schools, $7 billion in capital and infrastructure expenditures, and over $400 million in new parks and parkland renovation. Prior to his service as Bronx Borough President, Carrion represented the 14th City Council District on the New York City Council and also served as an urban planner at the NYC Department of City Planning and a teacher in the New York City Public Schools. Carrion received his bachelors in World Religions and Philosophy from King’s College in 1985 and his Masters in Urban Planning from Hunter College in 1990.

Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs Douglas has served as Washington Counsel to New York Governor David A. Paterson and Director of Governor Paterson's Washington, D.C. Office. In this capacity, Douglas served as the Governor’s chief architect for federal policy and oversaw federal policy development and advocacy on domestic, economic, and urban policy issues for the State of New York. Prior to his appointment in 2007, Douglas served as Associate Director of Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress where he founded and served as Director of the Economic Mobility Program. Prior to joining the Center, Douglas was a Counsel at O’Melveny & Myers LLP and an Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educa­tional Fund, Inc (LDF). Douglas graduated from the University of Michigan with Highest Honors in Economics and from the Yale Law School.

Marriage Equality Spreading

In New Jersey a poll was recently conducted by The Monmouth University/Gannett which finds:

"48 percent of New Jersey residents favor gay marriage, with 43 percent opposed.

Fifty percent oppose amending the state Constitution to ban gay marriage. Forty-one percent favor such a ban."

In Rhode Island we find:

"The fight for marriage equality in the Ocean State will be front and center on Thursday,February 26, as the Senate Judiciary Committee hears testimony pertaining to two bills - one prohibiting same-sex marriage and the other granting equal access to marriage for same-gender couples."

In Vermont:

Nine years after becoming the first state to permit civil unions, Vermont moved a step toward legalizing gay marriage Friday.

Vermont lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow gay marriage in the state that created civil unions for same-sex couples. The bill, sponsored by state Reps. Mark Larson and David Zuckerman, of Burlington, was introduced Friday, with the backing of 59 legislators.

In nine years, the atmosphere in Vermont has changed, said Rep. David Zuckerman, a co-sponsor from the Progressive Party.

"Nothing significant changed for many, many Vermonters nine years ago. There was this great fear. And what we've really seen in the last nine years is that fear was unfounded," he said.

New Hampshire:

CONCORD — Laws to repeal civil unions and ban gay marriage and to legalize gay marriage will be on the docket in hearings before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.

New Hampshire Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson, a vocal gay rights leader who delivered the invocation at one of the inaugural events last month for President Obama, will be one of those testifying in favor of gay marriage legalization. The legislation is sponsored by Democratic representatives Jim Splaine and Paul McEachern of Portsmouth.

If passed and signed into law by Gov. Lynch, who signed civil union legislation in 2007 but has opposed gay marriage in the past, gay marriage would go into effect on Jan. 1. It would recognize marriage as, according to the bill’s text, “the legally recognized union of two people. Any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements of this chapter may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender.”

The bill would also give same gender couples who entered into a civil union before the enactment of this bill the right to obtain the legal status of marriage.

Splaine said the 2007 civil unions legislation, of which he was a prime booster, was a “move toward full equality” but it was time to take next step. Since the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2008, more than 600 same-sex couples been joined in civil unions. If it passes, New Hampshire would join fellow New England states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, as the only ones legalizing gay marriage.

Last but certainly not least is Maine. Maine seems to be targeted by the opponents of equality as their most likely state to influence. Tony Perkins made a special trip to Maine recently:

Sunday, February 15, at 6:00 pm, Family Research Council President Tony Perkinswill headline a Stand for Marriage rally at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, ME.

In Maine, State Senator Dennis Damon has introduced a bill, “An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom,” that would extend recognition to the marriages of same-sex couples. If it passes -- and Governor David Baldacci, among others, says he's at least open to the idea -- Maine would join Massachusetts and Connecticut (and, briefly, California) in recognizing the marriages of gays and lesbians.

Looks to me like the opponents of marriage equality have their work cut out for them. They can for the moment still count on the ignorance of the masses being slightly in their favor. However, these battles are now being decided by elected representatives who are educated on their misinformation campaigns, and they have seen in the election results of Massachusetts and abroad that they need not fear losing their seats while defending liberty.


MR. GIBBS: Before I get my customary AP question, though this is off camera, we're going to change the rules and the briefing is on the record. So let me bring out our participants.

SECRETARY GEITHNER: I'm just going to start with the broad imperative: Economic recovery requires actions on three fronts. The President signed into law yesterday this very powerful package of investments and tax incentives to help keep people working, help businesses stay operating. This is a absolutely necessary part of recovery.

As a complement to that, we're going to have to take further actions to strengthen our financial system, to make sure it's providing the credit necessary to spur recovery. You're going to see additional details from us in the coming weeks on how we're going to do that -- again, how we're going to make banks strong enough they can support recovery, how we're going to provide direct support for the credit markets that are so important to small businesses lending, to consumer lending.

These are necessary but not sufficient conditions to help address the housing crisis. So the President is announcing today a very comprehensive plan of initiatives to help make housing more affordable and help, again, arrest this very damaging spiral we're seeing in the housing markets as a whole.

This program has three important parts. Let me just walk through these very quickly. The first is a program to allow Americans who cannot take advantage of lower interest rates today to refinance. Right now if you're a -- got a typical mortgage, but the value of your house price has declined, you're not able to take advantage of lower interest rates. So this program, which we think will reach between -- could reach between 4 and 5 million Americans -- will help people take advantage of lower interest rates and, in that context, provide substantial reductions in monthly payments.

The second program is a $75 billion program of incentives and measures to help improve affordability of mortgage payments for those families most at risk of foreclosure.

My colleagues, Shaun Donovan and Sheila Bair will provide more details on that program. You have a detailed fact sheet that shows how that works. It's a combination of powerful incentives to lenders to participate and some conditions and other inducements to try to make it work.

This will reach between 3 and 4 million Americans. Again, the focus is on improving affordability in mortgage payments for people at risk of losing their home.

The third important part is some additional financial support to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These two institutions, in effect, are the mortgage market today. They account for the vast bulk of mortgages originated today. They play a critical role in these markets, and we need to make sure that they have the ability to play that role going forward. And so we've increased substantially, using the authority Congress provided the administration last summer, to increase our financial commitment. This will be important to helping keep mortgage rates down and is a very critical, important part of recovery.

This is -- all Americans have a stake in making this work, not just those Americans who were the victim of bad underwriting standards, or in communities where you've seen -- foreclosure. It has broad-based effects, again, by helping Americans take advantage of lower interest rates, and helping improve affordability, helping keep overall mortgage rates low.

Important to just emphasize the way this affects the economy as a whole: Two important effects -- again, by helping keep mortgage rates down and helping reduce monthly payments, you're putting money in the hands of Americans. In that case, it acts like stimulus. Second is we're going to help reduce the risk that housing prices fall more than they would otherwise fall. So again, by keeping interest rates low, by making it more affordable for people to stay in their homes, and by reducing the amount of foreclosures ahead, we can reduce the risk that housing prices fall further than they otherwise would. Those two -- for those two reasons, again, all Americans have a stake in making this work.

This is necessary policy. It's smart economics. And it's just and fair -- because Americans across the country that were responsible in how much they borrowed are being significantly damaged by the actions of those who are less responsible, both people who borrowed more than they could afford, and banks that took risks they didn't understand and could not sustain.

I just want to end by complimenting Shaun Donovan, Sheila Bair, and a range of people across the administration who helped design this. They both have enormous credibility in this area. Sheila, I just want to say, was an early, powerful, pragmatic, creative advocate of action on the housing front. And I'm very pleased she was able to join the President and Shaun and I here today.

Thank you. Shaun, do you want to add anything?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: Thank you, Tim. As Tim has said, this is critical -- the announcement today is critical to getting the American economy back on the right path. And let's be clear, housing has been a significant part of initiating the economic slide that we're in, and will be a key part of getting us out.

Close to 10 percent of all American families today are either in foreclosure or behind on their mortgages. And to dramatize how important this is to the continuing slide in home prices that we see, estimates are that in December, 45 percent of all home sales were distressed sales -- 45 percent of all sales were distressed sales -- which is continuing to drive prices lower. So we have to get out of that spiral.

Here in Arizona, over 6 percent of all mortgages are more than 90 days late or in foreclosure -- so a crucial problem to be solved here, as well as across the country.

With the first two pieces of the announcement that Secretary Geithner has talked about, between our refinancing initiative -- or so-called "underwater" borrowers -- and our modification plan, mortgage modification plan, we will reach between -- up to 7 to 9 million American families. This is a smart, targeted investment which can reach and help to make more affordable more than $1.5 trillion of mortgage debt. Those 7 to 9 million families hold roughly over $1.5 trillion in mortgage debt. So we just have a scale that can have a real impact on turning the housing problems around in this country.

First of all, to focus on the refinancing portion, this will be focused on up to 4 to 5 million homeowners who have played by the rules, that have been making their payments on time. These families have seen, through no fault of their own, values in their communities on houses drop by 20, 30, 40, even 50 percent, and find themselves in a situation where even if they're holding a mortgage that is far above market rates, they cannot take advantage of refinancing down to what are really historically low mortgage rates that we see in the market today. This just isn't fair, and it's something that we will help to fix through the announcement today.

The typical family that has one of these so-called conforming mortgages, or Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgages, that can re-fi to today's markets rates will save roughly $2,300 a year in lower interest payments, simply by refinancing to today's market rates. And let me be clear: These families have played by the rules; they're families that only have been victims of their houses falling in value and, therefore, their mortgages are close to or higher than the value of their homes today.

So that's the first. The second is a mortgage modification plan, in many ways, based on the pioneering work that Sheila Bair did at FDIC, to show that a streamlined, large-scale modification plan can have major impacts. It will reach between, we believe, up to 3 to 4 million American families. Let's be clear about the scale here. Our expectation is that -- we saw 2.2 million foreclosures, a record number, last year. We expect to see as many as 6 million foreclosures in the coming years. So between these two initiatives, reaching 7 to 9 million families is at a scale that can really begin to turn this problem around.

The modification program -- first of all, we must be clear that while this crisis in housing started as a mortgage crisis, in many ways, it has become a job-loss crisis, as well. And so the signing yesterday of the recovery plan, which will create about 3.5 million jobs, is a critical piece of getting housing back on track by getting people back to work. But beyond that, this modification plan does a number of things to make sure that up to 3 to 4 million families can stay in their homes and have affordable mortgages.

First of all, it focuses on the right people: investor-owners, flippers, speculators will not be eligible for the program; only owner occupants. Second of all -- and this is something that is I think very innovative about this plan -- is that we are saying for the first time that any borrower that is current -- you don't have to be delinquent to qualify for this plan. This is different from what's been done in the past. What we've found in our research is that the earlier we can get to homeowners that are in trouble, the more chance they have at successfully modifying their mortgage and being homeowners in the long term.

And so we are providing new, innovative incentives for servicers to modify mortgages where people are current, where they haven't reached the state of 60 or 90 days delinquent, when they're more likely to fail. And those again are the most deserving borrowers because they played by the rules, they struggled to make payments, but they have made those payments and they haven't been able to benefit from modification programs before. So we are changing that.

Finally, we will provide a series of incentive payments for success both for owners where you can benefit from a $1,000-a-year payment up to five years -- if you're successful and succeed in your modification for up to five years, $5,000 that can reduce the principal on your home mortgage -- as well as incentive payments to servicers and lenders that if the modifications work over the years we will make payments to them as incentives to keep people current.

And in all, this will help, as I said, 3 to 4 million families. But let's be clear: This will also help millions of other families, as well. Recent research shows that neighboring homes to foreclosed homes lose as much as 9 percent of their value. So people who are not in danger of foreclosure still are suffering from nearby foreclosures. This will help those families, as well. Our estimates are that the average home -- not the average home in foreclosure, but the average home across the country will gain $6,000 in value relative to had this plan not been put in place.

And finally, the third leg of this plan which Tim has talked about, keeping the GSEs providing low interest mortgages is absolutely key. Together with FHA they represent more than 90 percent of the mortgage market today, all new mortgages issued. Combined with the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit that was in the recovery bill signed yesterday, we believe these efforts can help to prop up the housing market and return it to stability.

Thank you.

MS. BAIR: Well, I would just like to thank the President and Secretary Geithner and Donovan, and Larry Summers in absentia, for the leadership they have shown in putting this package together so early in the new administration. They're committing real resources to this problem. And the FDIC has long felt that the missing link really in all of our strategies so far is we've not tackled the problem at the core, which is at-risk borrowers, millions of unnecessary foreclosures weighing down home prices and creating a lot of external costs for neighborhoods, communities, and the economy as a whole.

So that missing link is being filled today in a way that I think is effective and responsible. It's a program of shared responsibility, looking to servicers, investors, borrowers, as well as the government, to all work together and make a contribution to get these loans restructured.

It aligns economic incentives in the right way. Because of the securitization features, where a lot of these at-risk mortgages are held, economic incentives have been skewed, so that loan restructurings that make sense, that are more valuable than a foreclosed home, have not been happening. And with this package the economic incentives should be aligned so that those loan restructurings that make economic sense and are viable will occur.

So I would just like to thank again the new administration for their leadership in getting this done, being willing to commit real resources to it. And I'd be happy to answer any questions.

Q We've been hearing $50 billion and now today we're talking $75 [billion]. Why the increase there? And also, if you're doubling the financial guarantees for Freddie and Fannie, does that mean that you have a more dire view of their books and the state they're in?

SECRETARY GEITHNER: The $75 billion because we think that's necessary to make a program like this work. We wanted to make sure we were putting enough resources into this that we were going to achieve as much as possible.

On the Fannie and Freddie front, again, you should view this as underscoring our commitment to stand behind these institutions so that they can play this critical role going forward. This is not a judgment about the expected losses ahead; it's just a way to make sure people understand that they will be able to play this role going forward. It underscores a commitment to make sure they can do that. And that is very important to try to help keep mortgage rates low.

Q The President talked in his speech about the inter-relatedness of the mortgage crisis, the banking crisis and the economy. So I want to ask you, do you think there will be fewer bank failures as a result of this specific housing plan? And then also I have a technical question: Are there any income limits on the incentives for borrowers, or is anybody eligible for them if they're underwater?

SECRETARY GEITHNER: Okay, let me start with the first. All these things are closely related. The recovery act, which is a very powerful set of investments and -- is not going to be as forceful if we have a financial system that's not providing credit to businesses and consumers. So those two things work together.

If those things are effective that will help make sure that people can -- because they're not losing their jobs -- more likely to stay in their home. They'll also help support the housing crisis as a whole.

But we think that alongside those things you need to get directly to the housing thing, too. As Sheila Bair said, I think, the cost of inaction on this front has been very severe. So you're absolutely right -- you need to think about these things together. Each will be more effective if you're moving with as much creativity and careful design force as we can, each will be more effective moving together.

Now on the --

Q -- overall banking plan more effective.

SECRETARY GEITHNER: More people will stay in their homes if fewer people lose their jobs. Banks will be stronger if fewer people lose their jobs. House prices will fall less than they otherwise would if you have a stronger economy and a financial system that's working better to support recovery.

Now, on the issue about qualification. These programs are targeted to people that, again, were relatively responsible. It's not going to be directed at helping those who borrowed just huge amounts of money, well beyond their capacity to repay, and it's not going to go -- it's not going to be targeted at those people who really don't need the assistance, have very substantial amounts of equity in their home and, therefore, are able to refinance, take advantage of lower interest rates.

So it's targeted to those people really in the middle and to make sure, again, they can refinance to take advantage of lower interest rates and they can take advantage of lower mortgage payments and, therefore, are more likely to be able to stay in their home, afford their home.

Q Can I ask about income -- just to follow up -- there are people who are struggling in San Francisco with million-dollar mortgages, even though they have two incomes and things like that. Would they be -- would any of those people be eligible?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: The program does have a limit on mortgages that are below what we call the conforming loan limits, which were -- just in the recovery bill signed yesterday, were maintained at a higher level than they have typically been. The highest -- they vary around the country, depending on home prices -- up to just over $700,000.

So just to be clear, only about 2 percent of mortgages around the country are above that, but we want to try and make sure that this assistance is not targeted at millionaire homes, homes where we, frankly, don't think that assistance is needed, that it's targeted to people who really do need the assistance.

Let me just mention one other thing on your question about the help to the banking system. Obviously Secretary Geithner is focused on the entire banking system. But within the homeownership market you hear about these toxic assets -- well, these toxic assets are really toxic mortgages in housing. And there are two fundamental problems. One is it's been hard to value these mortgages. This plan helps because it establishes a standardized net present value test, which will be released on March 4th when we release the broader guidance that we're going to put in place as part of this plan. That will help to create a more standardized system to value these mortgages across the country and take some of the uncertainty away.

The other thing, frankly, is the reason they've been toxic is because families haven't been able to pay. And so this will take millions of mortgages that currently aren't affordable to families and make them affordable. That will also help to stabilize the balance sheets of these banks, as well. So those are two key points.

Q It's kind of a technical one -- the $10 billion -- is that part of the $75 billion, or is it an additional dollar amount?

SECRETARY GEITHNER: It's part of the $75 billion total cost.

Q And is the $10 billion coming from TARP?


Q Are you able to enact this just by executive order, or do you have to go through a legislative process? And then I have a follow-up.

SECRETARY GEITHNER: We're using authority that already exists for the bulk of these initiatives, although an important part is some changes to the HOPE for Homeowners program. And there is legislation now pending before Congress that would help strengthen that program, make it more effective.

There are other pieces of the program, too, that require legislation, like the bankruptcy reform provisions. But the core parts of this program -- to improve affordability, to help people refinance -- are using authority Congress has already provided.

Q And then, I know you're trying to realign the incentives. But how do you respond to critics who say that when it comes to especially the pay for success program, that you're providing rewards for things that lenders and borrowers -- I'm sorry -- lenders and lendees already should be doing because of the extraordinary measure the government is taking?

SECRETARY GEITHNER: You've seen a lot of experience over the last year or so -- people try other approaches to help fix this problem, and they are not working. So what we try to do is put together a more powerful package of incentives and other inducements, I'll call them, to try to make sure you get a level of participation and a level of relief in mortgage payments that has not been achieved. We haven't even begun yet.

So this represents our best judgment of that. And you have to look at those costs against the very substantial benefits this will bring to homeowners across America and to the overall economy as a whole.

Q Are there any aspects of the plan that could work right away? There was an official who said March 4th as a possible guideline.

SECRETARY GEITHNER: We're going to put out the detailed guidelines on March 4th. We expect people to go ahead and continue modifying today. And although it will take a little longer for the entire operation or architecture of this thing to be in place, modifications done as of March 4th will benefit from these financial incentives.

So this is going to work, our judgment is, really quite quickly. You'll start to see the effects quite quickly, really a extraordinarily rapid pace for a program -- for an administration this early in office.

Q A senior administration official says 23 percent of the nation's mortgages are underwater right now. Does that mean that most people who bought homes in the past couple of years are now underwater?

SECRETARY GEITHNER: It is true that a substantial number of families -- you can see in our program, there's 4 to 5 million Americans who have had the value of their homes decline and therefore cannot refinance, take advantage of lower interest rates. And this program will help those. And there was no program on the table in prospect before this program to be directly affected those families -- at those families. And that's very important.

Now, there are other families who have much, much higher levels of mortgages outstanding relative to the value of their home, that this program should not reach, really cannot reach. So it won't reach all homeowners. It won't prevent all foreclosures. And it can't really help a range of people who were -- got themselves in the position where they had just borrowed way, way beyond their means.

Shaun, do you want to add to this?

Q Excuse me, if 23 percent of the nation's homes are underwater, and you hope to help 9 million -- 7 to 9 million -- how many people won't this reach? What percentage of 23 percent of the nation's homes is 7 to 9 million?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: A couple things I would say on that. One of the problems is there is no good accurate information about exactly the value of these homes. So there are estimates like the 23 percent that you mentioned. One of the features of this plan is to try and create through standardized guidance that will be issued by Treasury that will apply not just to Fannie and Freddie, not just to FHA, but across the mortgage market in general, to try to get a more standardized process for valuing these mortgages. So that's a critical piece of it.

What we are all -- there are a couple different groups of homeowners within those who are underwater. So it's not just the 4 to 5 million that Secretary Geithner talked about that are currently in conforming mortgages that are underwater that will benefit. You also have a group of homeowners who are part of the 3 to 4 million -- that are included in the 3 to 4 million that we will help, as well, who are both underwater and have affordability problems. Those will benefit, as well. So all of the folks who are being helped today through those first two initiatives are part of that group.

And then, finally, recognize that HOPE for Homeowners is a program that, if we can get legislative changes, will help underwater borrowers. And frankly, allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to continue to be active at lower interest rates, because of the support that we're providing, will help a large share of those homeowners, as well. So I think the scale of the plan that we got through the various components is adequate to get to the scale of folks who are underwater. We're not going to be able to bring every one of those borrowers to a point where they have equity in their homes. But at least we can make sure they benefit from refinancing, lower their payments, and get to an affordable level in their home.

Q You suggested that there would be help for people with non-conforming loans. I thought that there was not.

SECRETARY DONOVAN: To be clear, the modification program that is being announced today will allow any servicer who -- whether that loan is a conforming loan with the GSEs, or it is held by a private label security -- any type of loan as long as the servicer and the investor are willing to step up, they have some skin in the game, so to speak, they're willing to bring the payments down to 38 percent what we call DTI -- debt to income ratio -- we will provide incentives. We will split 50/50 the reduction of those payments down from 38 percent to 31 percent.

So any loan, whether it's a GSE loan or not, can participate in that program. And those homeowners who are underwater and also can't afford to pay their mortgages can participate.

Q -- respect to the lender?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: Just to be clear, we do have guidance -- as Secretary Geithner said earlier, we have guidance as part of TARP, that anyone receiving TARP funding must participate in this program. And we have a range of incentives that will make sure that servicers who have not been able to participate before can do so.

Let's be clear: One of the problems is these securities that hold many of these loans are so complex -- they've been sliced and diced into so many pieces -- that they are lots of problems for servicers that have a financial incentive to modify, but they haven't been able to do that. So we're going to provide standardized guidance across all the mortgage market that defines what a reasonable modification is. That will provide a lot of comfort to these servicers who have been concerned about lawsuits. That's first of all.

Second of all, we're going to provide the incentives that I talked about before, so there's a financial incentive to participate. And third, a program which really Sheila Bair has been a leader on -- we're going to provide this insurance pool -- the $10 billion insurance pool -- to make sure that future price declines aren't a reason for servicers to not participate. Right now, many are afraid if they modify and home prices fall further, that they're going to lose from that. We're going to help ensure against that so we get greater participation, as well.

We think the combination of the carrots and the sticks will be effective in getting much greater participation.

Sheila, do you want to add on this?

MS. BAIR: Yes, I just need to clarify, there's a difference between a conforming loan and a loan under the conforming limit. So the loans, the modification, "do they have to be below the conforming limit?" That doesn't mean they have to be conforming loans. A lot of them are not. A lot of the high-risk mortgages are in these private label securitizations.

And I guess to go back also to an earlier question about, well, why pay them for doing something that makes economic sense already. And I can assure you, our hands-on experience when we became conservator of IndyMac and we're dealing with the investors to try to get those loans modified in the servicing portfolio of IndyMac, and there were two key problems. One, is that investors have different interests. If you reduce the interest rate on these loans, some investors get hurt by that, some get help. If you foreclose, some get hurt, some get help. So the economic incentives are misaligned. The servicer has no skin in the game at all, right? So there's inertia there to begin with. The investors are pushing different ways, perhaps threatening lawsuits.

So I think what we're trying to do is align economic incentives by saying, if you come this far for us, 38 percent, then we'll help with the interest deduction between 38 and 31. We'll also give you some protection. We know home prices are going down. We know that some of these loans will redefault -- may redefault later and you will have to take a loss because the foreclosure value will be less. So we're going to give you some additional insurance, guarantee against that.

Those are the two huge issues that we've heard from investors over and over again. And we think -- it would be nice if it happened voluntarily. We tried voluntary. It didn't work. And we are woefully behind the curve. So I think this program is necessary. I think it does have the right incentives that should get the job done.

These modifications, though, absolutely make business sense. At IndyMac, we -- even assuming a 40 percent redefault rate, which is very high, higher than we think -- we're still making $50,000 on average for every loan we modify, just because the value of a performing loan is so much higher than that of a foreclosed home.

So this is -- this makes economic sense. It will help the economy. It will help stabilize home prices and prevent us from overshooting, which I think we are in a distinct danger of doing right now.

Q It's my understanding that this only applies to first mortgages, so that if you had a second -- a first mortgage and you're not technically underwater with it, but you are with your first and second combined, you're not eligible for assistance, correct? And why not?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: That's not correct, actually. We do have one element of the program that says if your total debt, including second lien but also credit card and other debt, is more -- your payments on all that debt is more than 55 percent of your income, then we think you're very unlikely to succeed. And therefore, we're going to require those families to go into counseling to try and reduce their other debts, and then they could become eligible for the program.

Q (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY DONOVAN: If they want to benefit from the program, we're going to have to do something to reduce their overall debt. What we don't want is to provide a modification that's set up for failure. We want to make sure that we're setting people up to succeed. So if their overall household debt is too high, that's going to be a requirement to be able to participate in the program, if they want to get the -- but on second liens, you are eligible to participate. And what we have generally seen is that the second liens on modifications are not a problem to participation, because no payments are made to the second liens whatsoever under this program.

We're going to focus on getting affordability. Their payments have to get down to the 31 percent level. And we will not be making payments to those second liens, because, frankly, they're not -- they don't have a value in this case if the homeowner can't even afford to pay the first mortgage. So no payments will be made. We've been in extensive discussions with the servicing community; we don't believe that's going to be an issue for the program and they will be able to participate.

Q How quickly are you going to go push this bankruptcy change in Congress? Is it --

SECRETARY GEITHNER: We're working with the leadership in Congress to find a appropriate way to move that forward, and we're working on it.

Q -- is it weeks, months?

SECRETARY GEITHNER: We're working on it. We're trying to find the best path to early enactment. And we want to have a carefully defined package of reforms.

Q As you said, there are millions of people who ultimately could be eligible for this help, and they're all wondering how do I go about doing this? Can you in a concise way explain who is eligible for this and who absolutely would not be eligible for the various forms of these programs?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: So you are eligible if your debt-to-income ratio -- in other words, the payments that you have to make on your mortgage -- are above 31 percent of your income; if the size of your mortgage -- and Sheila's clarification is important -- the size of your mortgage is below the amount of the conforming loan limits. It doesn't have to be a GSE loan, but it has to be below that limit, which varies across the country depending on home prices. And you have to have a reasonable chance of success as measured by whether your mortgage is underwater. In other words, if you're so far underwater, more than about 150 percent loan-to-value, we think you're very unlikely to succeed -- those will not be eligible, as well.

Q You answered part of my question. So the lower threshold on refinancing is loan-to-value of 150 [percent]?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: In other words, if you're over 150 percent loan-to-value right now you're not eligible for the program.

Just one point, one thing that's not in the list is being delinquent. Programs have typically required 90-day delinquency. We believe that we have to move this modification process earlier to help people be successful. And so we do not have a requirement that you have to be delinquent. In fact, we have incentive payments to try to bring non-delinquent borrowers in, because we think we have a better chance of success.

Q From 38 down to 31 -- does that include principal, as well, or just interest?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: That is up to the servicer. We are willing to match payments for principal reduction or interest reductions or extending out the term. Whatever the combination is that can get payments down to 31 percent, that's critical. We've seen a lot of modifications that have failed because they've actually increased payments rather than reduced payments. So getting payments to 31 percent debt-to-income ratio is critical.

Q I did hear you say that you're eligible -- not eligible if the size of your mortgage is below the amount -- or has to be below the amount of the conforming limits. I thought you just said in an earlier answer that the non-conforming mortgages were eligible.

SECRETARY DONOVAN: Yes. So just to be clear, two different things. A conforming mortgage is a Fannie Mae or a Freddie Mac mortgage. Conforming loan limit is a dollar figure, okay? So what we're saying is, very large mortgages aren't eligible. Smaller mortgages are eligible whether they are Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgages or other kinds of mortgages. Sorry about that.

Q What's the definition of that? Because in New York or San Francisco, very large is very large -- but, I mean, there's different levels --

SECRETARY DONOVAN: And we'd be happy to provide more detail to you. It varies across the country, depending on what home prices -- the maximum is about $730,000 in the highest-priced areas. There's a relatively complex formula I don't want to bore you with, but we'd be happy to get you what those numbers are across the country.

Q So there's a regional --

SECRETARY DONOVAN: Yes, there's a regional variation, depending on home price, exactly.

Q Three very factual questions. First, does the $75 billion come from the TARP money, the second tranche of the $350 billion of TARP money?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: Most of it but not all of it is from the TARP.

Q Where is the rest from?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: Part of the way that we're going to implement this program, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will do modifications of their own loans that qualify in this program. And we are not providing TARP funds to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for modifying their mortgages. But obviously that has a cost to them to modify them, and we are including that in the $75 billion that will be dedicated to doing that.

Q And secondly, you said you would expect about 6,000 foreclosures in the coming years. Can you be specific about the coming -- what do you mean by "the coming years"? And also, again, can you give us your best estimate of how many people will still go into foreclosure despite this effort?

SECRETARY DONOVAN: So, two things. Roughly 6 million foreclosures is expected over the next three years. Those estimates vary, depending on -- but that's, we think, a good estimate at this point, without implementing this program.

We believe we can help a very large share of these. It's going to depend on participation in the program. As I said earlier, between 7 and 9 million homeowners, families can benefit from the modification and the refinancing program. So it's a substantial scale. What's impossible to predict is exactly how many of those 7 to 9 million families would go into foreclosure. But we think we can get to a majority of the foreclosures.

Let me also be clear: There are speculators who are not owner occupants who will continue into foreclosure because this program is not targeted for them. There are families, frankly, whose debt is so high that even with this modification we're not going to be able to help them. One of the things that we do with our plan is to provide incentives for those families to be able to transition out of homeownership in a way that doesn't hurt them and doesn't hurt the communities around them.

What do I mean by that? Right now a foreclosure hurts their credit rating, makes it very hard for them to ever buy a home again, and also hurts surrounding communities because those homes tend to sit for months vacant, lowering prices of surrounding homes. So we've provided incentives for transitions short of foreclosure, like deed in lieu, or short sales, through this plan as well. So we believe even for those who are headed towards foreclosure, we've provided tools that will limit the impacts on families and on communities, and help to limit the decline in housing prices in surrounding communities.

SECRETARY GEITHNER: Can I just add one thing on this? It's just important to recognize that one of the biggest factors that effects the level of foreclosures is what happens to the economy as a whole and what happens to the path of unemployment. So these programs will address part of that risk. But overall path of foreclosures is hugely dependent on how quickly we get growth back, how quickly we get job creation back on track.

Q Two questions. One, does having Fannie and Freddie endorse these loans or continue to be involved in loans where people are below 20 percent increase their exposure in the long term? Have you tried to do any estimate of that? Is it going to be good for them in the long term in your estimate?

And the other question is on the investors and speculators. How are you sure that these aren't investors and speculators, and could there be second homes that are eligible for this program?

SECRETARY GEITHNER: On the first, Fannie and Freddie believe that the program we announced, this refinancing program is economically sensible for them and will leave them overall in a better position going forward.

As Shaun said, I think Sheila said, too, to be eligible this has to -- you have to be in an owner-occupied home. And that simple test will reduce the risk that any investors or second homes would benefit from the program.

SECRETARY DONOVAN: Second homes are not eligible.

Q How is that verified?

SECRETARY GEITHNER: It will be verified. It's easily verifiable.

Q I have two questions. The first is on the second part of the program, will people apply for the help, or will the servicers suggest the help to their debtors? And is the interest rate
-- by changing interest rates alone, will that be enough to get all these people to 31 percent of their income?

SECRETARY GEITHNER: On the first -- Shaun or Sheila may approve this, but you want -- for this to work, borrowers are going to have to take the initiative to approach their lenders to try to take advantage of the program. And you want servicers to take a more proactive approach to contact borrowers who are at risk and where it may make economic sense for everyone for them to be in. So you need to have both those two things happen. And this program creates pretty powerful incentives for initiative by the servicers to move.

On your second point --

Q (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY GEITHNER: Absolutely. Absolutely. You can come and initiate that process. And there's a variety of -- to make that easier, easier to happen more quickly.

On your second part of your question, as Shaun said, you can bring those mortgage payments to 31 percent through a mix of interest rate reductions, principal reductions, or extensions of the loan. And we're trying to incent and help that actually happen. And whatever mix works is okay.

Q -- the principal, as well?


Q And also, just one more thing. Do you think that Fannie and Freddie can sort of -- are they strong enough to absorb this much new responsibility? Are you at all concerned about their ability to handle --

SECRETARY GEITHNER: They are confident they can handle this. And they have a substantial economic incentive in doing so.

Q (Inaudible) -- foreclosures are skyrocketing. And the number one thing we hear from homebuyers, homeowners struggling: lenders won't play ball. So I hear the incentive, and then I hear TARP involvement. Are there penalties for lenders if they don't participate?

SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, as Shaun said, you're seeing there's a, I think, pretty powerful set of incentives, positive inducements and conditions, other types of incentives. And we think it will change behavior on a significant scale.

Q Thank you.