Political Musings April 25, 2014: GOP Senators oppose deportations review and Obama immigration reform action

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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Political Musings April 17, 2014: Obama refuses executive action on immigration reform urges House to pass bill

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama refuses executive action on immigration reform urges House to pass bill

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Although he promised a year of action without Congress, President Barack Obama made it clear on Tuesday, April 15, 2014 in a White House meeting in the Oval Office with faith leaders that he will not take executive action in…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency April 14, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Passover

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement from the President on Passover

Source: WH, 4-14-14 

Michelle and I send our warmest greetings to all those celebrating Passover in the United States, in Israel, and around the world.

On Tuesday, just as we have every year of my presidency, my family will join the millions taking part in the ancient tradition of the Seder.  We will enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, retell a timeless story, and give thanks for the freedom we are so blessed to enjoy.

Yet even as we celebrate, our prayers will be with the people of Overland Park, Kansas and the family and friends of the three innocent people who were killed when a gunman, just one day before Passover, opened fire at a Jewish community center and retirement home on Sunday.  As Americans, we will continue to stand united against this kind of terrible violence, which has no place in our society.  We will continue to come together across faiths to combat the ignorance and intolerance, including anti-Semitism, that can lead to hatred and violence.  And we will never lose faith that compassion and justice will ultimately triumph over hate and fear.

For that is one of the great lessons of the Exodus.  The tale of the Hebrew slaves and their flight from Egypt carries the hope and promise that the Jewish people have held in their hearts for thousands of years, and it is has inspired countless generations in their own struggles for freedom around the globe.

In America, the Passover story has always had special meaning.  We come from different places and diverse backgrounds, but we are bound together by a journey from bondage to liberty enshrined in our founding documents and continued in each generation.  As we were so painfully reminded on Sunday, our world is still in need of repair, but the story of the Exodus teaches us that with patience, determination, and abundant faith, a brighter future is possible.

Chag Sameach.

Full Text Obama Presidency April 13, 2014: President Obama’s Statement on the Shooting the Overland Jewish Community Center in Kansas

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by President Obama on Today’s Shooting in Kansas

Source:  WH, 4-13-14

This afternoon we heard reports of a horrific shooting in Overland Park, Kansas.  Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to the families and friends who lost a loved one and everyone affected by this tragedy.  I have asked my team to stay in close touch with our federal, state and local partners and provide the necessary resources to support the ongoing investigation. While we do not know all of the details surrounding today’s shooting, the initial reports are heartbreaking. I want to offer my condolences to all the families trying to make sense of this difficult situation and pledge the full support from the federal government as we heal and cope during this trying time.

Full Text Obama Presidency April 11, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Voting Rights Being Threatened at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention

Source: WH, 4-11-14

Sheraton New York Hotel
New York, New York

4:02 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENTHello, New York!  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  It is good to be at the National Action Network!  (Applause.)  It is good to be here with some good friends.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Applause.)

It is wonderful to be with all of you.  I want to say, first of all, thank you to your leader, Reverend Al Sharpton.  Give him a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  And I appreciate the idea of being an “action” President, although I do also have style — (laughter) — I just want to point that out.  I know it’s not about it, but I just — but I do have it.  (Laughter.)  Al is not the only guy with style.

We’ve got Barbara Arnwine here today, and we want to thank her.  Clayola Brown, thank you.  Melanie Campbell, thank you.  Marc Morial, thank you.  We’ve got members of Congress, state and local officials from New York.  And of course, we’ve got all of you.  So thanks to all of you for such a wonderful welcome.  (Applause.)

Everybody, sit down.  Sit down.  Al doesn’t know how to get back to his seat.  (Laughter.)  Somebody help out the leader here.  But don’t make him jump over it.  Okay, they’re going to explain it.  There we go.  All right.  You’re going to be all right.

Now, the last time I was here was three years ago, and a few things have changed since then.  I am here as a second term President.  (Applause.)  I have more gray hair.  (Laughter.)  It’s all right.  Let’s see, what else — I’ve got twice as many dogs.  I’m glad I won’t have to serve a third term — because three dogs is too many.  I can’t keep on promising Malia and Sasha another dog.

Of course one thing that has not changed is your commitment to the cause of civil rights for everybody and opportunity for all people.  And that’s been something that’s been on my mind this week.  Some of you may know that yesterday I was down in Austin, Texas at the LBJ Library to speak on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the man who signed it into law.  (Applause.)  And standing there, I thought of all the Americans, known and unknown, who made it possible for me to stand in that spot — who marched and organized, and sat in, and stood up for jobs and for justice.  I thought of all who achieved that great victory and others — not just with respect to the Civil Rights Act, but the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, and immigration reform, and Medicare and Medicaid, and the first battles of a long War on Poverty.

And over the past five years, in the wake of the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, we’ve won some victories, too.  Nearly 9 million new jobs at America’s businesses over the past four years.  (Applause.)  Seven and a half million Americans signing up to buy health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.  (Applause.)  And millions more who have gained coverage through Medicaid and CHIP, and young people being able to stay on their parents’ plans.  The rate of uninsured Americans is down.  High school dropout rates are down.  Our high school graduation rate is the highest on record.  More young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  (Applause.)  We’ve made progress and we’ve taken action.

But we also know our work is unfinished.  Too many Americans working harder than ever just to get by.  Too many Americans who aren’t working at all.  We know we have to do more to restore America’s promise of opportunity for all people, particularly for communities hardest hit by the recession; particularly for those who struggled since long before the recession — not only African Americans and Latinos, but Americans trapped across the country in pockets of poverty — inner city, suburban, rural.

And we know what opportunity means.  Opportunity means more good jobs that pay good wages.  Opportunity means training folks for those jobs.

Opportunity means changing the odds for all of our children through Pre-K, something Mayor de Blasio is fighting for here in New York City.  (Applause.)  And opportunity means affordable higher education for all who are willing to work for it.

Opportunity means answering the call to be My Brother’s Keeper and helping more boys and young men of color stay on track and reach their full potential.  (Applause.)

Before I came out, I was in a photo line, saw my good friend, Freddie Haynes, a great pastor from the great state of Texas.  And he told me this summer they’re going to hire 100 young men, pay them $10.10 an hour — maybe $10.50 — (applause) — as a consequence of this call.  And the point is, is that My Brother’s Keeper, that’s not just something I do, that’s not just something the government does.  That’s something everybody can participate in, because we know these young men need support.

Opportunity means making the minimum wage a wage you can live on.  It means equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  It means overtime pay for workers who have earned it.  It means continuing to extend the right of quality, affordable health care for every American in every state, because we’ve got some states that aren’t doing the right thing.  We have states who just out of political spite are leaving millions of people uninsured that could be getting health insurance right now.  No good reason for it.  If you ask them what’s the explanation they can’t really tell you.

And, by the way, making sure our citizens have the opportunity to lead healthy lives also means dealing with things like the dangerous carbon pollution that’s disproportionately affecting low-income communities.  It means making sure that our young people are eating right, so listen to Michelle.  (Laughter.)  I’m just saying.

So we know we’ve got more work to do to bridge the gap between our founding ideals and the realities of our time.  And the question then becomes, well, how do we actually make these changes?  How does it happen?  How do we get a minimum wage bill passed?  How do we make sure that those states that aren’t yet implementing the Affordable Care Act actually are doing right by their citizens?  It means being vigilant.  We’ve got to be vigilant to secure the gains we’ve made, but also to make more gains in the future.

And that’s the meaning of these last 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed.  Because across the country right now there are well-organized and well-funded efforts to undo these gains.  And one of those gains is under particular assault right now, and that’s what I want to spend the rest of my time here talking about.

Just as inequality feeds on injustice, opportunity requires justice.  And justice requires the right to vote.  (Applause.)  President Johnson, right after he signed the Civil Rights Act into law, told his advisors — some of whom were telling him, well, all right, just wait.  You’ve done a big thing now; let’s let the dust settle, don’t stir folks up.  He said, no, no, I can’t wait.  We’ve got to press forward and pass the Voting Rights Act.  Johnson said, “About this there can and should be no argument.  Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.”  (Applause.)

Voting is a time when we all have an equal say -— black or white, rich or poor, man or woman.  It doesn’t matter.  In the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our democracy, we’re all supposed to have that equal right to cast our ballot to help determine the direction of our society.

The principle of one person, one vote is the single greatest tool we have to redress an unjust status quo.  You would think there would not be an argument about this anymore.  But the stark, simple truth is this:  The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago.

Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.  In some places, women could be turned away from the polls just because they’re registered under their maiden name but their driver’s license has their married name.  Senior citizens who have been voting for decades may suddenly be told they can no longer vote until they can come up with the right ID.

In other places, folks may learn that without a document like a passport or a birth certificate, they can’t register.  About 60 percent of Americans don’t have a passport.  Just because you don’t have the money to travel abroad doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to vote here at home.  (Applause.)  And just to be clear, I know where my birth certificate is, but a lot of people don’t.  (Laughter.)  A lot of people don’t.  (Applause.)  I think it’s still up on a website somewhere.  (Laughter.)  You remember that?  That was crazy.  That was some crazy stuff.  (Laughter and applause.)  I hadn’t thought about that in a while.  (Laughter.)

Now, I want to be clear — I am not against reasonable attempts to secure the ballot.  We understand that there has to be rules in place.  But I am against requiring an ID that millions of Americans don’t have.  That shouldn’t suddenly prevent you from exercising your right to vote.  (Applause.)

The first words put to paper in our American story tell us that all of us are created equal.  And we understand that it took a long time to make sure that those words meant something.  But 50 years ago, we put laws in place, because of enormous struggles, to vindicate that idea; to make our democracy truly mean something.  And that makes it wrong to pass laws that make it harder for any eligible citizen to vote, especially because every citizen doesn’t just have the right to vote, they have a responsibility to vote.  (Applause.)

So, yes, we’re right to be on guard against voter fraud.  Voter fraud would impinge on our democracy, as well.  We don’t want folks voting that shouldn’t be voting.  We all agree on that.  Let’s stipulate to that, as the lawyers say.

But there’s a reason why those who argue that harsh restrictions on voting are somehow necessary to fight voter fraud are having such a hard time proving any real, widespread fraud.  So I just want to give you some statistics.  One recent study found only 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation in 12 years — 10 cases.  Another analysis found that out of 197 million votes cast for federal elections between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters — out of 197 million — were indicted for fraud.  Now, for those of you who are math majors, as a percentage, that is 0.00002 percent.  (Laughter.)  That’s not a lot.  So let’s be clear — the real voter fraud is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud.  (Applause.)

And I have to say, there have been — some of these officials who have been passing these laws have been more blunt.  They said, this is going to be good for the Republican Party.  Some of them have not been shy about saying that they’re doing this for partisan reasons.

“It is wrong,” President Johnson said, “deadly wrong, to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”  It is wrong to change our election rules just because of politics.  It is wrong to make citizens wait for five, six, seven hours just to vote.  It is wrong to make a senior citizen who no longer has a driver’s license jump through hoops and have to pay money just to exercise the rights she has cherished for a lifetime.  America did not stand up and did not march and did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote for themselves and for others only to see it denied to their kids and their grandchildren.  We’ve got to pay attention to this.  (Applause.)

Some of the folks from Chicago know — Crider (ph) knows — one of the first jobs I had out of law school was to lead a voter registration drive in my home state of Illinois.  We registered more than 150,000 new voters.  And as an organizer, I got to help other citizens exercise their most cherished and fundamental rights.  That mattered to me.

And as President, I’m not going to let attacks on these rights go unchallenged.  We’re not going to let voter suppression go unchallenged.  (Applause.)  So earlier this week, you heard from the Attorney General — and there’s a reason the agency he runs is called the Department of Justice.  (Applause.)  They’ve taken on more than 100 voting rights cases since 2009, and they’ve defended the rights of everybody from African Americans to Spanish speakers to soldiers serving overseas.  (Applause.)

Earlier this year, a bipartisan commission I appointed chaired by my election lawyer and Mitt Romney’s election lawyer came up with a series of modern — or common-sense reforms to modernize voter registration, and to curb the potential for fraud in smart way, and ensure that no one has to wait for more than half an hour to cast a ballot.  States and local election boards should take up those recommendations.  And with the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer almost upon us, I urge members of Congress to honor those who gave their lives so that others could exercise their rights, and update the Voting Rights Act.  Go ahead and get that done.  (Applause.)

Do it because the right to vote is something cherished by every American.  We should not be having an argument about this.  There are a lot of things we can argue about, but the right to vote?  I mean, what kind of political platform is that?  (Laughter.)  Why would you make that a part of your agenda, preventing people from voting?  How can you defend that?  There are a whole bunch of folks out there who don’t vote for me; didn’t vote for me, don’t like what I do.  The idea that I would prevent them from voting and exercising their franchise makes no sense.

Black or white, man or woman, urban, rural, rich, poor, Native American, disabled, gay, straight, Republican or Democrat — voters who want to vote should be able to vote.  Period.  Full stop.  (Applause.)  Voting is not a Democratic issue, it’s not a Republican issue.  It’s an issue of citizenship.  (Applause.)  It’s what makes our democracy strong.

But it’s a fact this recent effort to restrict the vote has not been led by both parties — it’s been led by the Republican Party.  And in fairness, it’s not just Democrats who are concerned.  You had one Republican state legislator point out — and I’m quoting here — “Making it more difficult for people to vote is not a good sign for a party that wants to attract more people.”  (Laughter.)  That was a pretty — that’s a good insight.  (Laughter.)  Right?  I want a competitive Republican Party, just like a competitive Democratic Party.  That’s how our democracy is supposed to work — the competition of ideas.  But I don’t want folks changing the rules to try to restrict people’s access to the ballot.

And I think responsible people, regardless of your party affiliation, should agree with that.  If your strategy depends on having fewer people show up to vote, that’s not a sign of strength, that’s a sign of weakness.  (Applause.)

And not only is it ultimately bad politics.  I believe ultimately it harms the entire country.  If voting is denied to the many, we risk ending up stuck year after year with special interest policies that benefit a fortunate few.  And injustice perpetuates inequality.

But remember, just as injustice perpetuates inequality, justice opens up opportunity.  And as infuriating as efforts to roll back hard-earned rights can be, the trajectory of our history has to give us hope.  The story of America is a story of progress.  No matter how often or how intensely that progress has been challenged, ultimately this nation has moved forward.  As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, [but] it bends towards justice.”  We move forward on civil rights and we move forward on workers’ rights, and we move forward on women’s rights and disability rights and gay rights.  We show that when ordinary citizens come together to participate in this democracy we love, justice will not be denied.  (Applause.)  So the single most important thing we can do to protect our right to vote is to vote.  (Applause.)

So I’m going to make one last point here.  We’re going to have an attorney general that looks at all the laws that are being passed.  We’re going to have civic organizations that are making sure that state laws and local laws are doing what they’re supposed to do.  We will fight back whenever we see unfairly the franchise being challenged.  But the truth is that for all these laws that are being put in place, the biggest problem we have is people giving up their own power — voluntarily not participating.

The number of people who voluntarily don’t vote, who are eligible to vote, dwarfs whatever these laws are put in place might do in terms of diminishing the voting roles.

So we can’t treat these new barriers as an excuse not to participate.  We can’t use cynicism as an excuse not to participate.  Sometimes I hear people saying, well, we haven’t gotten everything we need — we still have poverty, we still have problems.  Of course.  These things didn’t happen overnight.

When I was down in Texas, everybody was celebrating the day that the Civil Rights Law was finally passed.  Remember there were decades in which people sacrificed and worked hard.  (Applause.)  Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens as long as we don’t purposely give our power away.  Every obstacle put in our path should remind us of the power we hold in our hands each time we pull that lever or fill in that oval or touch that screen.  We just have to harness that power.  We’ve got to create a national network committed to taking action.  We can call it the National Action Network.  (Applause.)

So I want you to go out there and redouble your efforts.  Register more voters.  Help more folks to get their rights.  Get those souls to the polls.  If they won’t let you do it on Sunday, then do it on a Tuesday instead.  (Applause.)  I know it’s better going to the polls on Sunday because you go to church, you get a little meal.  (Laughter.)  You got the bus waiting for you.  I understand.  But you can do it without that if we have to.

We’re at a time when we’re marking many anniversaries.  And it’s interesting for me — I’ve been on this Earth 52 years, and so to see the progress we’ve made is to see my own life and the progression that’s happened.  You think about Brown v. Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and Freedom Summer.  And with those anniversaries, we have new reason to remember those who made it possible for us to be here.  Like the three civil rights workers in Mississippi — two white, one black — who were murdered 50 years ago as they tried to help their fellow citizens register to vote.  James Chaney and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner believed so strongly that change was possible they were willing to lay down their lives for it.  The least you can do is take them up on the gift that they have given you.  (Applause.)  Go out there and vote.  You can make a change.  You do have the power.

I’ve run my last election, but I need you to make sure that the changes that we started continue for decades to come.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.  (Applause.)

END
4:26 P.M. EDT

Political Musings February 28, 2014: Emotional Obama launches My Brother’s Keeper program to help minority youth

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Emotional Obama launches My Brother’s Keeper program to help minority youth

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama launched the most personal program to date when on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 27, 2014 he announced in the White House’s East Room another part of his economic opportunity program, called “My Brother’s Keeper…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency February 27, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech Launching My Brother’s Keeper, His New Initiative to Help Young Men of Color

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Launches My Brother’s Keeper, His New Initiative to Help Young Men of Color

Source: WH, 2-27-14

This afternoon, in the East Room of the White House, President Obama delivered remarks at the launch event for My Brother’s Keeper – his new initiative aimed at helping young men and boys of color facing tough odds reach their full potential. The initiative will bring together private philanthropies, businesses, governors, mayors, faith leaders, and nonprofit organizations that are committed to helping them succeed….READ MORE

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at an event to highlight "My Brother's Keeper," an initiative to expand opportunity for young men and boys of color, in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2014.President Barack Obama delivers remarks at an event to highlight “My Brother’s Keeper,” an initiative to expand opportunity for young men and boys of color, in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Remarks by the President on “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative

Source: WH, 2-27-14

East Room

3:43 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Well, good afternoon, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Good afternoon.

THE PRESIDENT:  Welcome to the White House.  And thank you, Christian, for that outstanding introduction.  And thank you for cheering for the White Sox, which is the right thing to do.  (Laughter.)  Like your parents and your teachers, I could not be prouder of you.  I could not be prouder of the other young men who are here today.  But just so we’re clear — you’re only excused for one day of school.  (Laughter.)  And I’m assuming you’ve got your assignments with you so that you can catch up — perhaps even on the flight back.  (Laughter.)

As Christian mentioned, I first met Christian about a year ago.  I visited the Hyde Park Academy in Chicago, which is only about a mile from my house.  And Christian was part of this program called “Becoming a Man.”  It’s a program that Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced to me.  And it helps young men who show a lot of potential but may have gotten in some trouble to stay on the right path.

They get help with schoolwork, but they also learn life skills like how to be a responsible citizen, and how to deal with life’s challenges, and how to manage frustrations in a constructive way, and how to set goals for themselves.  And it works.  One study found that, among young men who participate in the BAM program, arrests for violent crimes dropped 44 percent, and they were more likely to graduate from high school.  (Applause.)

So as Christian mentioned, during my visit, they’re in a circle and I sat down in the circle, and we went around, led by their counselor, and guys talked about their lives, talked about their stories.  They talked about what they were struggling with, and how they were trying to do the right thing, and how sometimes they didn’t always do the right thing.  And when it was my turn, I explained to them that when I was their age I was a lot like them.  I didn’t have a dad in the house.  And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time.  I made bad choices.  I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do.  I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have.  I made excuses.  Sometimes I sold myself short.

And I remember when I was saying this — Christian, you may remember this — after I was finished, the guy sitting next to me said, “Are you talking about you?”  (Laughter.)  I said, yes.

And the point was I could see myself in these young men.  And the only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving, so when I made a mistake the consequences were not as severe.  I had people who encouraged me — not just my mom and grandparents, but wonderful teachers and community leaders — and they’d push me to work hard and study hard and make the most of myself.  And if I didn’t listen they said it again.  And if I didn’t listen they said it a third time. And they would give me second chances, and third chances.  They never gave up on me, and so I didn’t give up on myself.

I told these young men my story then, and I repeat it now because I firmly believe that every child deserves the same chances that I had.  And that’s why we’re here today — to do what we can, in this year of action, to give more young Americans the support they need to make good choices, and to be resilient, and to overcome obstacles, and achieve their dreams.

This is an issue of national importance — it’s as important as any issue that I work on.  It’s an issue that goes to the very heart of why I ran for President — because if America stands for anything, it stands for the idea of opportunity for everybody; the notion that no matter who you are, or where you came from, or the circumstances into which you are born, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then you can make it in this country.  (Applause.)  That’s the core idea.

And that’s the idea behind everything that I’ll do this year, and for the rest of my presidency.  Because at a time when the economy is growing, we’ve got to make sure that every American shares in that growth, not just a few.  And that means guaranteeing every child in America has access to a world-class education.  It means creating more jobs and empowering more workers with the skills they need to do those jobs.  It means making sure that hard work pays off with wages you can live on and savings you can retire on and health care that you can count on.  It means building more ladders of opportunity into the middle class for anybody who’s willing to work hard to climb them.

Those are national issues.  They have an impact on everybody.  And the problem of stagnant wages and economic insecurity and stalled mobility are issues that affect all demographic groups all across the country.  My administration’s policies — from early childhood education to job training, to minimum wages — are designed to give a hand up to everybody, every child, every American willing to work hard and take responsibility for their own success.  That’s the larger agenda.
But the plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society — groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions; groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations.  And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color.

Now, to say this is not to deny the enormous strides we’ve made in closing the opportunity gaps that marred our history for so long.  My presence is a testimony to that progress.  Across this country, in government, in business, in our military, in communities in every state we see extraordinary examples of African American and Latino men who are standing tall and leading, and building businesses, and making our country stronger.  Some of those role models who have defied the odds are with us here today — the Magic Johnsons or the Colin Powells who are doing extraordinary things — the Anthony Foxxes.

Anthony, yesterday he and I were talking about how both of us never knew our dads, and shared that sense of both how hard that had been but also how that had driven us to succeed in many ways.  So there are examples of extraordinary achievement.  We all know that.  We don’t need to stereotype and pretend that there’s only dysfunction out there.  But 50 years after Dr. King talked about his dream for America’s children, the stubborn fact is that the life chances of the average black or brown child in this country lags behind by almost every measure, and is worse for boys and young men.

If you’re African American, there’s about a one in two chance you grow up without a father in your house — one in two. If you’re Latino, you have about a one in four chance.  We know that boys who grow up without a father are more likely to be poor, more likely to underperform in school.

As a black student, you are far less likely than a white student to be able to read proficiently by the time you are in 4th grade.  By the time you reach high school, you’re far more likely to have been suspended or expelled.  There’s a higher chance you end up in the criminal justice system, and a far higher chance that you are the victim of a violent crime.  Fewer young black and Latino men participate in the labor force compared to young white men.  And all of this translates into higher unemployment rates and poverty rates as adults.

And the worst part is we’ve become numb to these statistics.  We’re not surprised by them.  We take them as the norm.  We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is.  (Applause.)  That’s how we think about it.  It’s like a cultural backdrop for us — in movies and television.  We just assume, of course, it’s going to be like that.  But these statistics should break our hearts.  And they should compel us to act.

Michelle and I are blessed with two beautiful daughters.  We don’t have a son.  But I know if I had a son, on the day he was born I would have felt everything I felt with Malia and Sasha — the awe, the gratitude, the overwhelming sense of responsibility to do everything in my power to protect that amazing new life from this big world out there.  And just as our daughters are growing up into wonderful, beautiful young women, I’d want my son to feel a sense of boundless possibility.  And I’d want him to have independence and confidence.  And I’d want him to have empathy and compassion.  I’d want him to have a sense of diligence and commitment, and a respect for others and himself — the tools that he’d need to succeed.

I don’t have a son, but as parents, that’s what we should want not just for our children, but for all children.  (Applause.)  And I believe the continuing struggles of so many boys and young men — the fact that too many of them are falling by the wayside, dropping out, unemployed, involved in negative behavior, going to jail, being profiled — this is a moral issue for our country.  It’s also an economic issue for our country.

After all, these boys are a growing segment of our population.  They are our future workforce.  When, generation after generation, they lag behind, our economy suffers.  Our family structure suffers.  Our civic life suffers.  Cycles of hopelessness breed violence and mistrust.  And our country is a little less than what we know it can be.  So we need to change the statistics — not just for the sake of the young men and boys, but for the sake of America’s future.

That’s why, in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, with all the emotions and controversy that it sparked, I spoke about the need to bolster and reinforce our young men, and give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them.  (Applause.)  And I’m grateful that Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina and Tracy, are here with us today, along with Jordan Davis’s parents, Lucy and Ron.

In my State of the Union address last month, I said I’d pick up the phone and reach out to Americans willing to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds to stay on track and reach their full potential, so America can reach its full potential.  And that’s what today is all about.

After months of conversation with a wide range of people, we’ve pulled together private philanthropies and businesses, mayors, state and local leaders, faith leaders, nonprofits, all who are committed to creating more pathways to success.  And we’re committed to building on what works.  And we call it “My Brother’s Keeper.”

Now, just to be clear — “My Brother’s Keeper” is not some big, new government program.  In my State of the Union address, I outlined the work that needs to be done for broad-based economic growth and opportunity for all Americans.  We have manufacturing hubs, infrastructure spending — I’ve been traveling around the country for the last several weeks talking about what we need to do to grow the economy and expand opportunity for everybody.  And in the absence of some of those macroeconomic policies that create more good jobs and restore middle-class security, it’s going to be harder for everyone to make progress.  And for the last four years, we’ve been working through initiatives like Promise Zones to help break down the structural barriers — from lack of transportation to substandard schools — that afflict some of this country’s most impoverished counties, and we’ll continue to promote these efforts in urban and rural counties alike.

Those are all government initiatives, government programs that we think are good for all Americans and we’re going to keep on pushing for them.  But what we’re talking about here today with “My Brother’s Keeper” is a more focused effort on boys and young men of color who are having a particularly tough time.  And in this effort, government cannot play the only — or even the primary — role.  We can help give every child access to quality preschool and help them start learning from an early age, but we can’t replace the power of a parent who’s reading to that child. We can reform our criminal justice system to ensure that it’s not infected with bias, but nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life.  (Applause.)

In other words, broadening the horizons for our young men and giving them the tools they need to succeed will require a sustained effort from all of us.  Parents will have to parent — and turn off the television, and help with homework.  (Applause.) Teachers will need to do their part to make sure our kids don’t fall behind and that we’re setting high expectations for those children and not giving up on them.  Business leaders will need to create more mentorships and apprenticeships to show more young people what careers are out there.  Tech leaders will need to open young eyes to fields like computer science and engineering. Faith leaders will need to help our young men develop the values and ethical framework that is the foundation for a good and productive life.

So we all have a job to do.  And we can do it together — black and white, urban and rural, Democrat and Republican.  So often, the issues facing boys and young men of color get caught up in long-running ideological arguments about race and class, and crime and poverty, the role of government, partisan politics. We’ve all heard those arguments before.  But the urgency of the situation requires us to move past some of those old arguments and focus on getting something done and focusing on what works.  It doesn’t mean the arguments are unimportant; it just means that they can’t paralyze us.  And there’s enough goodwill and enough overlap and agreement that we should be able to go ahead and get some things done, without resolved everything about our history or our future.

Twenty years ago, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson started a program in the Miami public school system — feel free to stand up.  (Applause.)  To help young boys at risk of dropping out of school.  Today, it serves thousands of students in dozens of schools.

As Mayor of New York, Mayor Bloomberg — Michael Bloomberg, who’s here today, started a “Young Men’s Initiative” for African-American and Latino boys, because he understood that in order for America to compete we need to make it easier for all our young people to do better in the classroom and find a job once they graduate.

A bipartisan group of mayors called “Cities United” has made this issue a priority in communities across the country.  Senator Mike Lee — a leader of the tea party — has been working with Senator Dick Durbin — a Democrat from my home state of Illinois — to reduce disparities in our criminal justice system that have hit the African American and Latino communities especially hard.

So I want to thank everybody who’s been doing incredible work — many of the people who are here today, including members of Congress, who have been focused on this and are moving the needle in their communities and around the country.

They understand that giving every young person who’s willing to work hard a shot at opportunity should not be a partisan issue.  Yes, we need to train our workers, invest in our schools, make college more affordable — and government has a role to play.  And, yes, we need to encourage fathers to stick around, and remove the barriers to marriage, and talk openly about things like responsibility and faith and community.  In the words of Dr. King, it is not either-or; it is both-and.

And if I can persuade Sharpton and O’Reilly to be in the same meeting — (laughter and applause) — then it means that there are people of good faith who want to get some stuff done, even if we don’t agree on everything.  And that’s our focus.

While there may not be much of an appetite in Congress for sweeping new programs or major new initiatives right now, we all know we can’t wait.  And so the good news is folks in the private sector who know how important boosting the achievement of young men of color is to this country — they are ready to step up.

Today, I’m pleased to announce that some of the most forward-looking foundations in America are looking to invest at least $200 million over the next five years — on top of the $150 million that they’ve already invested — to test which strategies are working for our kids and expand them in cities across the country.  (Applause.)

Many of these folks have been on the front lines in this fight for a long time.  What’s more, they’re joined by business leaders, corporate leaders, entrepreneurs who are stepping forward to support this effort as well.  And my administration is going to do its part.  So today after my remarks are done, I’m going to pen this presidential memorandum directing the federal government not to spend more money, but to do things smarter, to determine what we can do right now to improve the odds for boys and young men of color, and make sure our agencies are working more effectively with each other, with those businesses, with those philanthropies, and with local communities to implement proven solutions.

And part of what makes this initiative so promising is that we actually know what works — and we know when it works. Now, what do I mean by that?  Over the years, we’ve identified key moments in the life of a boy or a young man of color that will, more often than not, determine whether he succeeds, or falls through the cracks.  We know the data.  We know the statistics.  And if we can focus on those key moments, those life-changing points in their lives, you can have a big impact; you can boost the odds for more of our kids.

First of all, we know that during the first three years of life, a child born into a low-income family hears 30 million fewer words than a child born into a well-off family.  And everybody knows babies are sponges, they just soak that up.  A 30-million-word deficit is hard to make up.  And if a black or Latino kid isn’t ready for kindergarten, he’s half as likely to finish middle school with strong academic and social skills.  So by giving more of our kids access to high-quality early education — and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their children succeed — we can give more kids a better shot at the career they’re capable of, and the life that will make us all better off.  So that’s point number one right at the beginning.

Point number two, if a child can’t read well by the time he’s in 3rd grade, he’s four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19 than one who can.  And if he happens to be poor, he’s six times less likely to graduate.  So by boosting reading levels, we can help more of our kids make the grade, keep on advancing, reach that day that so many parents dream of — until it comes close and then you start tearing up — and that’s when they’re walking across the stage, holding that high school diploma.

Number three, we know that Latino kids are almost twice as likely as white kids to be suspended from school.  Black kids are nearly four times as likely.  And if a student has been suspended even once by the time they’re in 9th grade they are twice as likely to drop out.

That’s why my administration has been working with schools on alternatives to the so-called “zero tolerance” guidelines — not because teachers or administrators or fellow students shold have to put up with bad behavior, but because there are ways to modify bad behavior that lead to good behavior — as opposed to bad behavior out of school.  We can make classrooms good places for learning for everybody without jeopardizing a child’s future. (Applause.)   And by building on that work, we can keep more of our young men where they belong — in the classroom, learning, growing, gaining the skills they need to succeed.

Number four, we know that students of color are far more likely than their white classmates to find themselves in trouble with the law.  If a student gets arrested, he’s almost twice as likely to drop out of school.  By making sure our criminal justice system doesn’t just function as a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, we can help young men of color stay out of prison, stay out of jail.  And that means then, they’re more likely to be employable, and to invest in their own families, and to pass on a legacy of love and hope.

And finally, we know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be “disconnected” — not in school, not working.  We’ve got to reconnect them.  We’ve got to give more of these young men access to mentors.  We’ve got to contine to encourage responsible fatherhood.  We’ve got to provide more pathways to apply to college or find a job.  We can keep them from falling through the cracks, and help them lay a foundation for a career and a family and a better life.

In the discussion before we came in, General Powell talked about the fact that there are going to be some kids who just don’t have a family at home that is functional, no matter how hard we try.  But just an adult, any adult who’s paying attention can make a difference.  Any adult who cares can make a difference.

Magic was talking about being in a school in Chicago, and rather than going to the school he brought the school to the company, All-State, that was doing the work.  And suddenly, just that one conversation meant these young men saw something different.  A world opened up for them.  It doesn’t take that much.  But it takes more than we’re doing now.

And that’s what “My Brother’s Keeper” is all about — helping more of our young people stay on track; providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future;  building on what works, when it works, in those critical life-changing moments.  And when I say, by the way, building on what works, it means looking at the actual evidence of what works.  There are a lot of programs out there that sound good, are well-intentioned, well-inspired, but they’re not actually having an impact.  We don’t have enough money or time or resources to invest in things that don’t work, so we’ve got to be pretty hard-headed about saying if something is not working, let’s stop doing it.  Let’s do things that work.  And we shouldn’t care whether it was a Democratic program or a Republican program, or a fait-based program or — if it works, we should support it.  If it doesn’t, we shouldn’t.

And all the time recognizing that “my neighbor’s child is my child” — that each of us has an obligation to give every child the same chance this country gave so many of us.

So, in closing, let me just say this.  None of this is going to be easy.  This is not a one-year proposition.  It’s not a two-year proposition.  It’s going to take time.  We’re dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society, and are entrenched in our minds.  And addressing these issues will have to be a two-way bargain.  Because no matter how much the community chips in, it’s ultimately going to be up to these young men and all the young men who are out there to step up and seize responsibility for their own lives.  (Applause.)

And that’s why I want to close by speaking directly to the young men who are here today and all the boys and young men who are watching at home.  Part of my message, part of our message in this initiative is “no excuses.”  Government and private sector and philanthropy and all the faith communities — we all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need; we’ve got to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience. That’s what we’re here for.  But you’ve got responsibilities, too.

And I know you can meet the challenge — many of you already are — if you make the effort.  It may be hard, but you will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society’s lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future.  It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up — or settle into the stereotype.

It’s not going to happen overnight, but you’re going to have to set goals and you’re going to have to work for those goals.  Nothing will be given to you.  The world is tough out there, there’s a lot of competition for jobs and college positions, and everybody has to work hard.  But I know you guys can succeed.  We’ve got young men up here who are starting to make those good choices because somebody stepped in and gave them a sense of how they might go about it.

And I know it can work because of men like Maurice Owens, who’s here today.  I want to tell Moe’s story just real quick.

When Moe was four years old, he moved with his mom Chauvet from South Carolina to the Bronx.  His mom didn’t have a lot of money, and they lived in a tough neighborhood.  Crime was high.  A lot of young men ended up in jail or worse.  But she knew the importance of education, so she got Moe into the best elementary school that she could find.  And every morning, she put him on a bus; every night, she welcomed him when he came home.

She took the initiative, she eventually found a sponsorship program that allowed Moe to attend a good high school.  And while many of his friends got into trouble, some of it pretty serious, Moe just kept on getting on the bus, and kept on working hard and reaching for something better.  And he had some adults in his life that were willing to give him advice and help him along the way.  And he ended up going to college.  And he ended up serving his country in the Air Force.  And today, Moe works in the White House, just two doors down from the Oval Office, as the Special Assistant to my Chief of Staff.  (Applause.)  And Moe never misses a chance to tell kids who grew up just like he did that if he can make it, they can, too.

Moe and his mom are here today, so I want to thank them both for this incredible example.  Stand up, Moe, and show off your mom there.  (Applause.)  Good job, Moe.

So Moe didn’t make excuses.  His mom had high expectations. America needs more citizens like Moe.  We need more young men like Christian.  We will beat the odds.  We need to give every child, no matter what they look like, where they live, the chance to reach their full potential.  Because if we do — if we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers, and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens — then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass on those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren, will start a different cycle.  And this country will be richer and stronger for it for generations to come.

So let’s get going.  Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
4:17 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 5, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Afternoon Hanukkah Reception

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Afternoon Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-5-13 

Grand Foyer

4:21 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  Welcome to the White House.  Now, normally we just have one Hanukkah reception, but this year we are hosting two because we have so many friends to celebrate with we had to do it twice.  And I’ll be welcoming a whole other group this evening.  Don’t tell them, though, but you’re my favorite group.  (Laughter.)  It is our own little Hanukkah miracle.  The party that was supposed to last only one hour will go on for eight.  (Laughter.)  You got that one?  (Laughter.)

Now, this is the fifth time I’ve celebrated Hanukkah as President.  But this is my first Thanikkah — did I say that right?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thanksgivukkah.

THE PRESIDENT:  This intersection of two wonderful holidays has inspired a whole lot of people across America; we are delighted to welcome a few of them here tonight.

We’ve got 10-year old Asher Weintraub from New York City — where’s Asher?  (Applause.)  Asher came up with what we believe is the world’s first-ever menorah shaped like a turkey.  It is called the Menurkey.  (Laughter.)  Where is the Menurkey?  I had it just a second ago.

MRS. OBAMA:  You just had it.  Where is the Menurkey?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got to bring the Menurkey out here.  I’ll continue speaking.  You’ve got to see this.  Thank you, Asher, for your spirit and your creativity.

We’ve got Dana Gitell — where’s Dana — (applause) — who actually coined the term “Thanksgivukkah” — her sister Deborah — oh, here’s the Menurkey.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Team Thanksgivukkah is here!

THE PRESIDENT:  There we go.  (Laughter.)  So I’m going to keep this in a special place.  (Laughter.)

So Dana, along with her sister Deborah, expects this term to catch on around the country.  Where are they?

MS. GITELL:  Right here.

THE PRESIDENT:  There they are.  Let’s see them.  Hey, guys.  How are you?  They’ve had a lot of fun with their project.  But there is a serious side to it because they’ve said they always express their gratitude to America, a place where no matter who you are, you can always celebrate your faith.  And that same spirit is reflected in the menorah that we’re about to light.

It was designed by Manfred Anson, who was born in Germany in 1922.  And as a child he lived through the horrors of Kristallnacht, and later lost a brother to the Holocaust.  But Manfred escaped.  And like the Maccabees at the center of the Hanukkah story, he fought against tyranny, serving in the Australian army during World War II.  And like the Maccabees, after the war was over he sought a place where he could live his life and practice his religion free from fear.  So for Manfred and millions like him, that place was ultimately America.

And Manfred passed away last year, but during his life he designed this special menorah, with a model of the Statue of Liberty at the base of each candle — I don’t know if you’ve noticed that.  In a few moments, all nine lady liberties will be shining, a reminder that our country endures as a beacon of hope and of freedom wherever you come from, whatever your faith.

And that beacon stays bright because of families like the one that will join me in lighting the menorah this evening –- the Schmitters.  Now, dad, Jake, could not be here because he’s deployed in Afghanistan.  (Applause.)  But we are joined by his wonderful wife Drew, his daughters Lainey and Kylie — go ahead and wave, guys.  (Laughter.)  So Drew, Lainey, Kylie, I want you to know how proud we are of not only your dad, but also of you.  And we’re so grateful for the sacrifices that you make on behalf of our country every single day.

And tonight, we give thanks to all the men and women in uniform and for their families.  They make tremendous sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our freedom and our security — not only of us, but our allies and friends around the world, including our friends in the State of Israel.  And the commitment and the courage of our men and women in uniform and their families is itself a miracle for which we give thanks.

As the Festival of Lights draws to a close, let’s take one last chance to think about all the miracles we’ve been lucky enough to experience in our own lives.  There are small miracles, like the invention of the Menurkey.  (Laughter.)  And then there are big miracles like the chance to be a part of this great country.

The first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving won’t overlap again for more than 70,000 years.  So it’s safe to say that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event — (laughter) — unless there’s a really — a scientific breakthrough that we don’t know about.  (Laughter.)  But while we never may see again another Thanksgivukkah, I know that if we can show the same resilience as Manfred Anson and the same resourcefulness as young Asher, as well as Dana and Deborah, and the same strength as military families like the Schmitters, we will be blessed with many more miracles for years to come.

So thank you, everybody.  Happy Hanukkah.  And now I want to welcome Rabbi Amanda Lurer, a lieutenant in our Navy, to say a blessing.  (Applause.)

MS. LURER:  Hanukkah formally ends tonight as the sun goes down this evening.  But it will always be appropriate for us as we gather to remind ourselves and the world of the meaning of this holiday.  So in that spirit, in this wonderful gathering, we now kindle the menorah and recite two blessings.  And as we kindle the lights, we’ll say — the first one is the she-asa nissim blessing, thanking God for the miraculous capability to bring light to the darkest corners of the world, and for leaders who are dedicated to strengthening religious freedoms in our days as in the day of the Maccabees.

The second blessing is shehecheyanu, that simple yet powerful prayer of thanksgiving, for the blessing of life, the gift of light and the privilege to celebrate Hanukkah together.  Please join me.

(Prayer is sung.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you all again for being here.  We hope you have a wonderful celebration.  And we can’t stay to party because I got to go back to work.  (Laughter.)  But I do want to make sure that we get a chance to shake hands with all of you briefly as we go by.  And again, we just want to thank the Schmitters, and make sure to tell dad we’re proud of him, too.

MS. SCHMITTER:  Okay.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  (Laughter.)  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Enjoy, everybody.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END
4:31 P.M. EST

Political Musings September 3, 2013: President Barack Obama speaks to 1000 Rabbis in Rosh Hashanah conference call

POLITICAL MUSINGS

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=500&h=80?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama speaks to 1000 Rabbis in Rosh Hashanah conference call

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama spoke to 1000 rabbis in a conference call on Friday afternoon Aug. 30, 2013 from the White House. The President phoned to give his Rosh Hashanah, New Year greeting to the Rabbis and in general the American….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency July 19, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Trayvon Martin Verdict

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Trayvon Martin

Source: WH, 7- 19-13

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:33 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  I wanted to come out here, first of all, to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is very much looking forward to the session.  The second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to obviously be a whole range of issues — immigration, economics, et cetera — we’ll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week — the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling.  I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday.  But watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.

First of all, I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation.  I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there’s going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case — I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues.  The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner.  The prosecution and the defense made their arguments.  The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict.  And once the jury has spoken, that’s how our system works.  But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling.

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.  That includes me.  There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me — at least before I was a senator.  There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.  That happens often.

And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.  And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.  The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.  And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.  It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.  They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration.  And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.  So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys.  But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this?  How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?  I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent.  If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.  But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do.

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here.  Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code.  And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive.  So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff, so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things.  One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped.  But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.

And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and, in turn, be more helpful in applying the law.  And obviously, law enforcement has got a very tough job.

So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive.  And I think a lot of them would be.  And let’s figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.

I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the “stand your ground” laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.  On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I’d just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?  And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?  And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Number three — and this is a long-term project — we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys.  And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about.  There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement.  And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

I’m not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program.  I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I’ve got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front.  And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation.  And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.

And then, finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching.  There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race.  I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations.  They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.  On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?  Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?  That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better.  Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.  It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society.  It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated.  But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are — they’re better than we were — on these issues.  And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues.  And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.  But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

Thank you, guys.

END
1:52 P.M. EDT

Political Headlines May 29, 2013: White House Hosts First-Ever Hispanic Business Leaders Forum

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

White House Hosts First-Ever Hispanic Business Leaders Forum

Source: ABC News Radio, 5-29-13

The White House, in conjunction with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, hosted the country’s top Hispanic business leaders on Wednesday for the first-ever “Hispanic Business Leaders Forum” to discuss jobs and economic topics, specifically the role Latino communities play in the economy….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency May 28, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Asian American and Pacific Islander AAPI Heritage Month Celebration

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Speaks at AAPI Heritage Month Celebration

Source: WH, 5-29-13
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebrationPresident Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration in the East Room of the White House, May 28, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Last night, President Obama delivered remarks before over 200 members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community at a White House celebration of AAPI Heritage Month. The audience included national, state, and local community leaders; elected officials; leaders of philanthropic, youth, and arts organizations; and members of the President’s Administration, including Sri Srinivasan, who was recently confirmed unanimously by the Senate to become the first South Asian American federal appeals court judge….READ MORE

Remarks by the President at AAPI Heritage Month Celebration

Source: WH, 5-28-13 

East Room

5:48 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Everybody, please have a seat.  Thank you so much.  Aloha!

AUDIENCE:  Aloha!

THE PRESIDENT:  Welcome to the White House, everybody.  And thank you, Joan, for the introduction.  And I want to thank everybody who’s here — the incredible warmth of the reception.  A sign of the warmth is the lipstick on my collar.  (Laughter.)  I have to say I think I know the culprit — where is Jessica Sanchez?  (Laughter.)  Jessica — it wasn’t Jessica.  It was her aunt.  Where is she?  (Laughter.)  Auntie, right there.  Look at this.  (Laughter.)  Look at this.  I just want everybody to witness.  (Laughter.)  So I do not want to be in trouble with Michelle.  (Laughter.)  That’s why I’m calling you out right in front of everybody.  (Laughter.)

We are here today to honor the incredibly rich heritage and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  And there’s no better example of that diversity than the people who are in this room.  We’ve got members of Congress; we’ve got members of my administration; we’ve got lots of special guests and talented performers.

And every day, we’re reminded of the many ways in which Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders have all contributed and enriched our nation throughout our history.  Obviously for me, I don’t have to look any further than my own family.  I’ve got my brother-in-law here, Konrad, who is — (applause) — Konrad Ng, who’s heading up the Smithsonian Asian American Center — it probably has a longer name than that.  (Laughter.)  My sister, Maya; their beautiful daughters — my nieces, Suhaila and Savita.

I can think back on my college years when my roommates were Indian and Pakistanis, which is how I learned how to cook keema and dal.  (Laughter and applause.)  Very good.  And of course, I can dig back into my own memories of growing up in Hawaii and in Indonesia.  And so certainly it’s been a central part of my life, the entire Asia Pacific region.

But it’s more than food and family — because generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders helped build this country, and helped to defend this country, and to make America what it is today.  It’s a history that speaks to the promise of our nation  — one that welcomes the contributions of all people, no matter their color or their beliefs, because we draw from the rich traditions of everybody who calls America home.  “E pluribus unum” — out of many, one.

And the artists joining us today exemplify that creed.  So we’ve got performers like Karsh Kale, who fuses the best of East and West, mixing eclectic beats with the sounds of his heritage and creating music that’s distinctly his own — that’s a trait, obviously, that’s distinctly American.  We’ve got musicians like Paula Fuga and John Cruz, whose work represents the spirit of my native Hawaii and reminds us that we’re all part of the same ohana.  We have authors like Amy Tan, who uses her own family’s immigration story to trace the stories of others.  She makes out of the particular something very universal.

We value these voices because from the very beginning, ours has been a nation of immigrants; a nation challenged and shaped and pushed ever forward by diverse perspectives and fresh thinking.  And in order to keep our edge and stay ahead in the global race, we need to figure out a way to fix our broken immigration system — to welcome that infusion of newness, while still maintaining the enduring strength of our laws.  And the service and the leadership of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have proved that point time and again.

So we take opportunities like today to honor the legacy of those who paved the way, like my friend, the late Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye, the first Japanese American to serve in Congress  — and to celebrate the pioneers of this generation, like Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, one of the first female veterans elected to Congress.  (Applause.)  And one of my favorite people right now, Sri Srinivasan, who has just been confirmed.  (Applause.)  Here’s Sri, right here.  (Applause.)

I was proud to nominate Sri, and he was just confirmed unanimously to become the first South Asian American federal appeals court judge.  (Applause.)  I was telling his kids, who are here today, if he starts getting a big head, walking around the house with a robe — (laughter) — asking them to call him “Your Honor” — (laughter) — then they should talk to me.  (Laughter.)

In every election, at every board meeting, in every town across America, we see more and more different faces of leadership, setting an example for every young kid who sees a leader who looks like him or her.  And that’s a good thing.  We’ve got to keep that up.  We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure everybody works hard, everybody plays by the rules, everybody has a chance to get ahead — to start their own business, to earn a degree, to write their own page in the American story — that the laws respect everybody, that civil rights apply to everybody.  That’s who we are at our best and that’s what we’re here to celebrate.  That’s the challenge that I believe we’re going to meet together.

So I want to thank all of you for being here tonight.  It is going to be a wonderful gathering.  And from Michelle and Malia and Sasha — and Bo — (laughter) — thank you all for the incredible contributions that you’re making each and every day.

God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

END
5:54 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency April 8, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Yom Hashoah / Holocaust Remembrance Day

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement from the President on Yom Hashoah

Source: WH, 4-8-13

I join people here in the United States, in Israel, and around the world in observing Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Today, we honor the memories of the six million Jewish victims and millions of others who perished in the darkness of the Shoah.  As we reflect on the beautiful lives lost, and their great potential that would never be fulfilled, we also pay tribute to all those who resisted the Nazis’ heinous acts and all those who survived.

On my recent trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, and reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront anti-Semitism, prejudice, and intolerance across the world.  On this Yom Hashoah, we must accept the full responsibility of remembrance, as nations and as individuals—not simply to pledge “never again,” but to commit ourselves to the understanding, empathy and compassion that is the foundation of peace and human dignity.

Full Text Obama Presidency March 25, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Passover Message

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement from the President on Passover

Source: WH, 3-25-13

As we prepare for our fifth Seder in the White House, Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Passover here in America, in the State of Israel, and around the world.

Tonight, Jewish families will gather with family and friends to celebrate with songs, wine, and food. They will read from the Haggadah, and retell the story that makes this holiday so powerful.

Last week, I visited the state of Israel for the third time, my first as President. I reaffirmed our countries’ unbreakable bonds with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I had the chance to speak directly with young Israelis about the future they wanted for their country, their region, and the world. And I saw once again how the dream of true freedom found its full expression in those words of hope from Hatikvah, lihyot ‘am chofshi be’artzeinu, “To be a free people in our land.”

Passover is a celebration of the freedom our ancestors dreamed of, fought for, and ultimately won. But even as we give thanks, we are called to look to the future. We are reminded that responsibility does not end when we reach the promised land, it only begins. As my family and I prepare to once again take part in this ancient and powerful tradition, I am hopeful that we can draw upon the best in ourselves to find the promise in the days that lie ahead, meet the challenges that will come, and continuing the hard work of repairing the world. Chag sameach.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder Dinner for family, staff and friends, in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, March 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Political Headlines February 20, 2013: Sen. Marco Rubio, PM Benjamin Netanyahu Bump Water Bottles in Israel

POLITICAL HEADLINES

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Rubio, Netanyahu Bump Water Bottles in Israel

Source: ABC News Radio, 2-20-13

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio’s water bottle incident turned global Wednesday when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel.

A photo posted on Twitter showed the two bumping water bottles across a table where they met Wednesday….READ MORE

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