Full Text Obama Presidency April 2, 2015: President Barack Obama’s speech announcing a ‘framework’ agreement for a nuclear weapons deal with Iran — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama’s speech announcing a ‘framework’ agreement for a nuclear weapons deal with Iran — Transcript

Source: WaPo, 4-2-15

OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody.

Today, the United States, together with our allies and partners, has reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

As president and commander in chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people, and I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final, comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer. This has been a long time coming.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been advancing its nuclear program for decades. By the time I took office, Iran was operating thousands of centrifuges, which can produce the materials for a nuclear bomb. And Iran was concealing a covert nuclear facility.

I made clear that we were prepared to resolve this issue diplomatically, but only if Iran came to the table in a serious way.

When that did not happen, we rallied the world to impose the toughest sanctions in history, sanctions which had a profound impact on the Iranian economy.

Now, sanctions alone could not stop Iran’s nuclear program, but they did help bring Iran to the negotiating table. Because of our diplomatic efforts, the world stood with us, and we were joined at the negotiating table by the world’s major powers: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China as well as the European Union.

Over a year ago, we took the first step towards today’s framework with a deal to stop the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and roll it back in key areas.

And recall that at the time, skeptics argued that Iran would cheat, that we could not verify their compliance, and the interim agreement would fail. Instead, it has succeeded exactly as intended. Iran has met all of its obligations.

It eliminated its stockpile of dangerous nuclear material, inspections of Iran’s program increased, and we continued negotiations to see if we could achieve a more comprehensive deal.

Today, after many months of tough principle diplomacy, we have achieved the framework for that deal. And it is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives.

This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran will face strict limitations on its program, and Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history. So this deal is not based on trust. It’s based on unprecedented verification.

Many key details will be finalized over the next three months. And nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed. But here are the basic outlines of the deal that we are working to finalize.

First, Iran will not be able to pursue a bomb using plutonium because it will not develop weapons grade plutonium. The core of its reactor at Arak will be dismantled and replaced. The spent fuel from that facility will be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor. Iran will not build a new heavy water reactor. And Iran will not reprocess fuel from its existing reactors, ever.

Second, this deal shuts down Iran’s path to a bomb using enriched uranium. Iran has agreed that its installed centrifuges will be reduced by two thirds. Iran will no longer enrich uranium at its Fordo facility. Iran will not enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years. The vast majority of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be neutralized.

Today, estimates indicate that Iran is only two or three months away from potentially acquiring the raw materials that could be used for a single nuclear bomb. Under this deal, Iran has agreed that it will not stockpile the materials needed to build a weapon. Even if it violated the deal, for the next decade at least, Iran would be a minimum of a year away from acquiring enough material for a bomb. And the strict limitations on Iran’s stockpile will last for 15 years.

Third, this deal provides the best possible defense against Iran’s ability to pursue a nuclear weapon covertly, that is in secret. International inspectors will have unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but to the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program, from uranium mills that provide the raw materials to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.

If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it. Iran’s past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed.

With this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world. So, this will be a long-term deal that addresses each path to a potential Iranian nuclear bomb.

There will be strict limits on Iran’s program for a decade. Additional restrictions on building new facilities or stockpiling materials will last for 15 years. The unprecedented transparency measures will last for 20 years or more. Indeed, some will be permanent. And as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran will never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.

In return for Iran’s actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions. Our own sanctions and international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. This relief will be phased, as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal. If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place.

Meanwhile, other American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced.

Now let me re-emphasize, our work is not yet done. The deal has not been signed. Between now and the end of June, the negotiators will continue to work through the details of how this framework will be fully implemented and those details matter.

If there is backsliding on the part of the Iranians, if the verification and inspection mechanisms don’t meet the specifications of our nuclear and security experts, there will be no deal.

But if we can get this done and Iran follows through on the framework that our negotiators agreed to, we will be able to resolve one of the greatest threats to our security and to do so peacefully.

Given the importance of this issue, I have instructed my negotiators to fully brief Congress and the American people on the substance the deal. And I welcome a robust debate in the weeks and months to come.

I am confident that we can show that this deal is good for the security of the United States, for our allies and for the world.

But the fact is we only have three options for addressing Iran’s nuclear program. First, we can reach a robust and verifiable deal, like this one, and peacefully prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The second option is we can bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, thereby starting another war in the Middle East and setting back Iran’s program by a few years. In other words, setting it back by a fraction of the time that this deal will set it back. Meanwhile, we’d ensure that Iran would raise their head to try and build a bomb.

Third, we could pull out of negotiations, try to get other countries to go along and continue sanctions that are currently in place or add additional ones and hope for the best. Knowing that every time we have done so, Iran has not capitulated, but instead has advanced its program. And that in very short order, the breakout timeline would be eliminated and a nuclear arms race in the region could be triggered because of that uncertainty.

In other words, the third option leads us very quickly back to a decision about whether or not to take military action because we’d have no idea what was going on inside of Iran. Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so.

That’s not how the world works. And that’s not what history shows us. Iran has shown no willingness to eliminate those aspects of their program that they maintain are for peaceful purposes, even in the face of unprecedented sanctions.

Should negotiations collapse because we, the United States, rejected what the majority of the world considers a fair deal, what our scientists and nuclear experts suggest would give us confidence that they are not developing a nuclear weapon, it’s doubtful that we could even keep our current international sanctions in place.

So when you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question: Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East? Is it worse than doing what we’ve done for almost two decades with Iran moving forward with its nuclear program and without robust inspections?

I think the answer will be clear. Remember, I have always insisted that I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and I will.

But I also know that a diplomatic solution is the best way to get this done and offers a more comprehensive and lasting solution. It is our best option by far. And while it is always a possibility that Iran may try to cheat on the deal in the future, this framework of inspections and transparency makes it far more likely that we’ll know about it if they try to cheat, and I or future presidents will have preserved all of the options that are currently available to deal with it.

To the Iranian people, I want to reaffirm what I’ve said since the beginning of my presidency. We are willing to engage you on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.

This deal offers the prospect of relief from sanctions that were imposed because of Iran’s violation of international law. Since Iran’s supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, this framework gives Iran the opportunity to verify that it’s program is, in fact, peaceful. It demonstrates that if Iran complies with its international obligations, then it can fully rejoin the community of nations, thereby fulfilling the extraordinary talent and aspirations of the Iranian people. That would be good for Iran, and it would be good for the world.

Of course, this deal alone, even if fully implemented, will not end the deep divisions and mistrust between our two countries. We have a difficult history between us.

And our concerns will remain with respect to Iranian behavior so long as Iran continues its sponsorship of terrorism, its support for proxies who destabilize the Middle East, its threats against America’s friends and allies, like Israel.

So make no mistake, we will remain vigilant in countering those actions and standing with our allies.

It’s no secret that the Israeli prime minister and I don’t agree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue. If in fact Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option.

And I believe our nuclear experts can confirm that.

More importantly, I will be speaking with the prime minister today to make clear that there will be no daylight, there is no daylight when it comes to our support for Israel’s security and our concerns about Iran’s destabilizing policies and threats towards Israel.

That’s why I’ve directed my national security team to consult closely with the new Israeli government in the coming weeks and months about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and make clear our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s defense.

Today, I also spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia, to reaffirm our commitment to the security of our partners in the Gulf. And I am inviting the leaders of the six countries who make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain to meet me at Camp David this spring to discuss how we can further strengthen our security cooperation while resolving the multiple conflicts that have caused so much hardship and instability throughout the Middle East.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that Congress has, on a bipartisan basis, played a critical role in our current Iran policy, helping to shape the sanctions regime that applied so much pressure on Iran and ultimately forced them to the table.

In the coming days and weeks, my administration will engage Congress once again about how we can play — how it can play a constructive oversight role. I’ll begin that effort by speaking to the leaders of the House and the Senate today.

In those conversations, I will underscore that the issues at stake here are bigger than politics. These are matters of war and peace. And they should be evaluated based on the facts, and what is ultimately best for the American people and for our national security. For, this is not simply a deal between my administration and Iran. This is a deal between Iran, the United States of America and the major powers in the world, including some of our closest allies.

If Congress kills this deal not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative, then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy. International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.

The American people understand this, which is why a solid majority support a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. They understand instinctively the words of President Kennedy, who faced down the far greater threat of Communism, and said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” The American people remembered that at the height of the Cold War.

Presidents like Nixon and Reagan struck historic arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, a far more dangerous adversary, despite the fact that that adversary not only threatened to destroy our country and our way of life, but had the means to do so.

Those agreements were not perfect. They did not end all threats. But they made our world safer. A good deal with Iran will do the same. Today I’d like to express my thanks to our international partners for their steadfastness, their cooperation.

I was able to speak earlier today with our close allies, Prime Minister Cameron and President Holland and Chancellor Merkel, to reaffirm that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this effort. And most of all, on behalf of our nation, I want to express my thanks to our tireless — and I mean tireless — Secretary of State John Kerry and our entire negotiating team. They have worked so hard to make this progress. They represent the best tradition of American diplomacy.

Their work, our work, is not yet done and success is not guaranteed. But we have a historic opportunity to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in Iran and to do so peacefully, with the international community firmly behind us. We should seize that chance. Thank you. God bless you. And god bless the United States of America.

Full Text Obama Presidency April 2, 2015: State Department Full Text of Iran Nuclear Weapons Program Deal Parameters

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program

Source: State.gov, 4-2-15

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
April 2, 2015

Below are the key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program that were decided in Lausanne, Switzerland. These elements form the foundation upon which the final text of the JCPOA will be written between now and June 30, and reflect the significant progress that has been made in discussions between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran. Important implementation details are still subject to negotiation, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We will work to conclude the JCPOA based on these parameters over the coming months.

Enrichment

  • Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.
  • Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.
  • Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years.
  • All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment.
  • Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.
  • Iran’s breakout timeline – the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon – is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.

Iran will convert its facility at Fordow so that it is no longer used to enrich uranium

  • Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium at its Fordow facility for at least 15 years.
  •  Iran has agreed to convert its Fordow facility so that it is used for peaceful purposes only – into a nuclear, physics, technology, research center.
  • Iran has agreed to not conduct research and development associated with uranium enrichment at Fordow for 15 years.
  • Iran will not have any fissile material at Fordow for 15 years.
  • Almost two-thirds of Fordow’s centrifuges and infrastructure will be removed. The remaining centrifuges will not enrich uranium. All centrifuges and related infrastructure will be placed under IAEA monitoring.

Iran will only enrich uranium at the Natanz facility, with only 5,060 IR-1 first-generation centrifuges for ten years.

  • Iran has agreed to only enrich uranium using its first generation (IR-1 models) centrifuges at Natanz for ten years, removing its more advanced centrifuges.
  • Iran will remove the 1,000 IR-2M centrifuges currently installed at Natanz and place them in IAEA monitored storage for ten years.
  • Iran will not use its IR-2, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, or IR-8 models to produce enriched uranium for at least ten years. Iran will engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges, according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the P5+1.
  • For ten years, enrichment and enrichment research and development will be limited to ensure a breakout timeline of at least 1 year. Beyond 10 years, Iran will abide by its enrichment and enrichment R&D plan submitted to the IAEA, and pursuant to the JCPOA, under the Additional Protocol resulting in certain limitations on enrichment capacity.

Inspections and Transparency

  • The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.
  • Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program. The new transparency and inspections mechanisms will closely monitor materials and/or components to prevent diversion to a secret program.
  • Inspectors will have access to uranium mines and continuous surveillance at uranium mills, where Iran produces yellowcake, for 25 years.
  • Inspectors will have continuous surveillance of Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities for 20 years. Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing base will be frozen and under continuous surveillance.
  • All centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure removed from Fordow and Natanz will be placed under continuous monitoring by the IAEA.
  • A dedicated procurement channel for Iran’s nuclear program will be established to monitor and approve, on a case by case basis, the supply, sale, or transfer to Iran of certain nuclear-related and dual use materials and technology – an additional transparency measure.
  • Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol of the IAEA, providing the IAEA much greater access and information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including both declared and undeclared facilities.
  • Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country.
  • Iran has agreed to implement Modified Code 3.1 requiring early notification of construction of new facilities.
  • Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.

Reactors and Reprocessing

  • Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild a heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on a design that is agreed to by the P5+1, which will not produce weapons grade plutonium, and which will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production.
  • The original core of the reactor, which would have enabled the production of significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be destroyed or removed from the country.
  • Iran will ship all of its spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the reactor’s lifetime.
  • Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel.
  • Iran will not accumulate heavy water in excess of the needs of the modified Arak reactor, and will sell any remaining heavy water on the international market for 15 years.
  • Iran will not build any additional heavy water reactors for 15 years.

Sanctions

  • Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.
  • U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.
  • The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.
  • All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).
  • However, core provisions in the UN Security Council resolutions – those that deal with transfers of sensitive technologies and activities – will be re-established by a new UN Security Council resolution that will endorse the JCPOA and urge its full implementation. It will also create the procurement channel mentioned above, which will serve as a key transparency measure. Important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles, as well as provisions that allow for related cargo inspections and asset freezes, will also be incorporated by this new resolution.
  • A dispute resolution process will be specified, which enables any JCPOA participant, to seek to resolve disagreements about the performance of JCPOA commitments.
  • If an issue of significant non-performance cannot be resolved through that process, then all previous UN sanctions could be re-imposed.
  • U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.

Phasing

  • For ten years, Iran will limit domestic enrichment capacity and research and development – ensuring a breakout timeline of at least one year. Beyond that, Iran will be bound by its longer-term enrichment and enrichment research and development plan it shared with the P5+1.
  • For fifteen years, Iran will limit additional elements of its program. For instance, Iran will not build new enrichment facilities or heavy water reactors and will limit its stockpile of enriched uranium and accept enhanced transparency procedures.
  • Important inspections and transparency measures will continue well beyond 15 years. Iran’s adherence to the Additional Protocol of the IAEA is permanent, including its significant access and transparency obligations. The robust inspections of Iran’s uranium supply chain will last for 25 years.
  • Even after the period of the most stringent limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits Iran’s development or acquisition of nuclear weapons and requires IAEA safeguards on its nuclear program.

Full Text Obama Presidency March 30, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute

Source: WH,  3-30-15

Edward M. Kennedy Institute
Boston, Massachusetts

12:16 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  To Vicki, Ted, Patrick, Curran, Caroline, Ambassador Smith, members of the Kennedy family — thank you so much for inviting me to speak today.  Your Eminence, Cardinal O’Malley; Vice President Biden; Governor Baker; Mayor Walsh; members of Congress, past and present; and pretty much every elected official in Massachusetts — (laughter) — it is an honor to mark this occasion with you.

Boston, know that Michelle and I have joined our prayers with yours these past few days for a hero — former Army Ranger and Boston Police Officer John Moynihan, who was shot in the line of duty on Friday night.  (Applause.)  I mention him because, last year, at the White House, the Vice President and I had the chance to honor Officer Moynihan as one of America’s “Top Cops” for his bravery in the line of duty, for risking his life to save a fellow officer.  And thanks to the heroes at Boston Medical Center, I’m told Officer Moynihan is awake, and talking, and we wish him a full and speedy recovery.  (Applause.)

I also want to single out someone who very much wanted to be here, just as he was every day for nearly 25 years as he represented this commonwealth alongside Ted in the Senate — and that’s Secretary of State John Kerry.  (Applause.)  As many of you know, John is in Europe with our allies and partners, leading the negotiations with Iran and the world community, and standing up for a principle that Ted and his brother, President Kennedy, believed in so strongly:  “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”  (Applause.)

And, finally, in his first years in the Senate, Ted dispatched a young aide to assemble a team of talent without rival.  The sell was simple:  Come and help Ted Kennedy make history.  So I want to give a special shout-out to his extraordinarily loyal staff — (applause) — 50 years later a family more than one thousand strong.  This is your day, as well.  We’re proud of you.  (Applause.)  Of course, many of you now work with me.  (Laughter.)  So enjoy today, because we got to get back to work.  (Laughter.)

Distinguished guests, fellow citizens — in 1958, Ted Kennedy was a young man working to reelect his brother, Jack, to the United States Senate.  On election night, the two toasted one another:  “Here’s to 1960, Mr. President,” Ted said, “If you can make it.”  With his quick Irish wit, Jack returned the toast:  “Here’s to 1962, Senator Kennedy, if you can make it.”  (Laughter.)  They both made it.  And today, they’re together again in eternal rest at Arlington.

But their legacies are as alive as ever together right here in Boston.  The John F. Kennedy Library next door is a symbol of our American idealism; the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate as a living example of the hard, frustrating, never-ending, but critical work required to make that idealism real.

What more fitting tribute, what better testament to the life of Ted Kennedy, than this place that he left for a new generation of Americans — a monument not to himself but to what we, the people, have the power to do together.

Any of us who have had the privilege to serve in the Senate know that it’s impossible not to share Ted’s awe for the history swirling around you — an awe instilled in him by his brother, Jack.  Ted waited more than a year to deliver his first speech on the Senate floor.  That’s no longer the custom.  (Laughter.)  It’s good to see Trent and Tom Daschle here, because they remember what customs were like back then.  (Laughter.)

And Ted gave a speech only because he felt there was a topic — the Civil Rights Act — that demanded it.  Nevertheless, he spoke with humility, aware, as he put it, that “a freshman Senator should be seen, not heard; should learn, and not teach.”

Some of us, I admit, have not always heeded that lesson.  (Laughter.)  But fortunately, we had Ted to show us the ropes anyway.  And no one made the Senate come alive like Ted Kennedy.  It was one of the great pleasures of my life to hear Ted Kennedy deliver one of his stem winders on the Floor.  Rarely was he more animated than when he’d lead you through the living museums that were his offices.  He could — and he would — tell you everything that there was to know about all of it.  (Laughter.)

And then there were more somber moments.  I still remember the first time I pulled open the drawer of my desk.  Each senator is assigned a desk, and there’s a tradition of carving the names of those who had used it before.  And those names in my desk included Taft and Baker, Simon, Wellstone, and Robert F. Kennedy.

The Senate was a place where you instinctively pulled yourself up a little bit straighter; where you tried to act a little bit better.  “Being a senator changes a person,” Ted wrote in his memoirs.  As Vicki said, it may take a year, or two years, or three years, but it always happens; it fills you with a heightened sense of purpose.

That’s the magic of the Senate.  That’s the essence of what it can be.  And who but Ted Kennedy, and his family, would create a full-scale replica of the Senate chamber, and open it to everyone?

We live in a time of such great cynicism about all our institutions.  And we are cynical about government and about Washington, most of all.  It’s hard for our children to see, in the noisy and too often trivial pursuits of today’s politics, the possibilities of our democracy — our capacity, together, to do big things.

And this place can help change that.  It can help light the fire of imagination, plant the seed of noble ambition in the minds of future generations.  Imagine a gaggle of school kids clutching tablets, turning classrooms into cloakrooms and hallways into hearing rooms, assigned an issue of the day and the responsibility to solve it.

Imagine their moral universe expanding as they hear about the momentous battles waged in that chamber and how they echo throughout today’s society.  Great questions of war and peace, the tangled bargains between North and South, federal and state; the original sins of slavery and prejudice; and the unfinished battles for civil rights and opportunity and equality.

Imagine the shift in their sense of what’s possible.  The first time they see a video of senators who look like they do — men and women, blacks and whites, Latinos, Asian-Americans; those born to great wealth but also those born of incredibly modest means.

Imagine what a child feels the first time she steps onto that floor, before she’s old enough to be cynical; before she’s told what she can’t do; before she’s told who she can’t talk to or work with; what she feels when she sits at one of those desks; what happens when it comes her turn to stand and speak on behalf of something she cares about; and cast a vote, and have a sense of purpose.

It’s maybe just not for kids.  What if we all carried ourselves that way?  What if our politics, our democracy, were as elevated, as purposeful, as she imagines it to be right here?

Towards the end of his life, Ted reflected on how Congress has changed over time.  And those who served earlier I think have those same conversations.  It’s a more diverse, more accurate reflection of America than it used to be, and that is a grand thing, a great achievement.  But Ted grieved the loss of camaraderie and collegiality, the face-to-face interaction.  I think he regretted the arguments now made to cameras instead of colleagues, directed at a narrow base instead of the body politic as a whole; the outsized influence of money and special interests — and how it all leads more Americans to turn away in disgust and simply choose not to exercise their right to vote.

Now, since this is a joyous occasion, this is not the time for me to suggest a slew of new ideas for reform.  Although I do have some.  (Laughter.)  Maybe I’ll just mention one.

What if we carried ourselves more like Ted Kennedy?  What if we worked to follow his example a little bit harder?  To his harshest critics, who saw him as nothing more than a partisan lightning rod — that may sound foolish, but there are Republicans here today for a reason.  They know who Ted Kennedy was.  It’s not because they shared Ted’s ideology or his positions, but because they knew Ted as somebody who bridged the partisan divide over and over and over again, with genuine effort and affection, in an era when bipartisanship has become so very rare.

They knew him as somebody who kept his word.  They knew him as somebody who was willing to take half a loaf and endure the anger of his own supporters to get something done.  They knew him as somebody who was not afraid.  And fear so permeates our politics, instead of hope.  People fight to get in the Senate and then they’re afraid.  We fight to get these positions and then don’t want to do anything with them.  And Ted understood the only point of running for office was to get something done — not to posture; not to sit there worrying about the next election or the polls — to take risks.  He understood that differences of party or philosophy could not become barriers to cooperation or respect.

He could howl at injustice on the Senate floor like a force of nature, while nervous aides tried to figure out which chart to pull up next.  (Laughter.)  But in his personal dealings, he answered Edmund Randolph’s call to keep the Senate a place to “restrain, if possible, the fury of democracy.”

I did not know Ted as long as some of the speakers here today.  But he was my friend.  I owe him a lot.  And as far as I could tell, it was never ideology that compelled him, except insofar as his ideology said, you should help people; that you should have a life of purpose; that you should be empathetic and be able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, and see through their eyes.  His tirelessness, his restlessness, they were rooted in his experience.

By the age of 12, he was a member of a Gold Star Family.  By 36, two of his brothers were stolen from him in the most tragic, public of ways.  By 41, he nearly lost a beloved child to cancer.  And that made suffering something he knew.  And it made him more alive to the suffering of others.

While his son was sleeping after treatment, Ted would wander the halls of the hospital and meet other parents keeping vigil over their own children.  They were parents terrified of what would happen when they couldn’t afford the next treatment; parents working out what they could sell or borrow or mortgage just to make it just a few more months — and then, if they had to, bargain with God for the rest.

There, in the quiet night, working people of modest means and one of the most powerful men in the world shared the same intimate, immediate sense of helplessness.  He didn’t see them as some abstraction.  He knew them.  He felt them.  Their pain was his as much as they might be separated by wealth and fame.  And those families would be at the heart of Ted’s passions.  Just like the young immigrant, he would see himself in that child.  They were his cause — the sick child who couldn’t see a doctor; the young soldier sent to battle without armor; the citizen denied her rights because of what she looked like or where she came from or who she loves.

He quietly attended as many military funerals in Massachusetts as he could for those who fell in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He called and wrote each one of the 177 families in this commonwealth who lost a loved one on 9/11, and he took them sailing, and played with their children, not just in the days after, but every year after.

His life’s work was not to champion those with wealth or power or connections; they already had enough representation.  It was to give voice to the people who wrote and called him from every state, desperate for somebody who might listen and help.  It was about what he could do for others.

It’s why he’d take his hearings to hospitals in rural towns and inner cities, and push people out of their comfort zones, including his colleagues.  Because he had pushed himself out of his comfort zone.  And he tried to instill in his colleagues that same sense of empathy.  Even if they called him, as one did, “wrong at the top of his lungs.”  Even if they might disagree with him 99 percent of the time.  Because who knew what might happen with that other 1 percent?

Orrin Hatch was sent to Washington in part because he promised to fight Ted Kennedy.  And they fought a lot.  One was a conservative Mormon from Utah, after all; the other one was, well, Ted Kennedy.  (Laughter.)  But once they got to know one another, they discovered certain things in common — a devout faith, a soft spot for health care, very fine singing voices.  (Laughter.)

In 1986, when Republicans controlled the Senate, Orrin held the first hearing on the AIDS epidemic, even hugging an AIDS patient — an incredible and very important gesture at the time.  The next year, Ted took over the committee, and continued what Orrin started.  When Orrin’s father passed away, Ted was one of the first to call.  It was over dinner at Ted’s house one night that they decided to try and insure the 10 million children who didn’t have access to health care.

As that debate hit roadblocks in Congress, as apparently debates over health care tend to do, Ted would have his Chief of Staff serenade Orrin to court his support.  When hearings didn’t go Ted’s way, he might puff on a cigar to annoy Orrin, who disdained smoking.  (Laughter.)  When they didn’t go Orrin’s way, he might threaten to call Ted’s sister, Eunice.  (Laughter.)  And when it came time to find a way to pay for the Children’s Health Insurance Program that they, together, had devised, Ted pounced, offering a tobacco tax and asking, “Are you for Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man, or millions of children who lack adequate health care?”

It was the kind of friendship unique to the Senate, calling to mind what John Calhoun once said of Henry Clay:  “I don’t like Clay.  He is a bad man, an imposter, a creator of wicked schemes.  I wouldn’t speak to him, but, by God, I love him!”  (Laughter.)

So, sure, Orrin Hatch once called Ted “one of the major dangers to the country.”  (Laughter.)  But he also stood up at a gathering in Ted’s last months, and said, “I’m asking you all to pray for Ted Kennedy.”

The point is, we can fight on almost everything.  But we can come together on some things.  And those “somethings” can mean everything to a whole lot of people.

It was common ground that led Ted and Orrin to forge a compromise that covered millions of kids with health care.  It was common ground, rooted in the plight of loved ones, that led Ted and Chuck Grassley to cover kids with disabilities; that led Ted and Pete Domenici to fight for equal rights for Americans with a mental illness.

Common ground, not rooted in abstractions or stubborn, rigid ideologies, but shared experience, that led Ted and John McCain to work on a Patient’s Bill of Rights, and to work to forge a smarter, more just immigration system.

A common desire to fix what’s broken.  A willingness to compromise in pursuit of a larger goal.  A personal relationship that lets you fight like heck on one issue, and shake hands on the next — not through just cajoling or horse-trading or serenades, but through Ted’s brand of friendship and kindness, and humor and grace.

“What binds us together across our differences in religion or politics or economic theory,” Ted wrote in his memoirs, “[is] all we share as human beings — the wonder that we experience when we look at the night sky; the gratitude that we know when we feel the heat of the sun; the sense of humor in the face of the unbearable; and the persistence of suffering.  And one thing more — the capacity to reach across our differences to offer a hand of healing.”

For all the challenges of a changing world, for all the imperfections of our democracy, the capacity to reach across our differences is something that’s entirely up to us.

May we all, in our own lives, set an example for the kids who enter these doors, and exit with higher expectations for their country.

May we all remember the times this American family has challenged us to ask what we can do; to dream and say why not; to seek a cause that endures; and sail against the wind in its pursuit, and live our lives with that heightened sense of purpose.

Thank you.  May God bless you.  May He continue to bless this country we love.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END
12:44 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency March 25, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech Marking the Fifth Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President Marking the Fifth Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act

Source: WH, 3-25-15

South Court Auditorium

10:42 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much, everybody.   Everybody, have a seat.  Thank you, Doctor, for that introduction.  I want to thank Sylvia Burwell, our outstanding head of Health and Human Services.  We’ve got some wonderful members of Congress here today who helped make this happen.  And I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to all of the top medical professionals who are here today.  We’ve got hospital leaders, we’ve got health care CEOs, doctors, patients, advocates, consumer groups, Democrats and Republicans, who have all come together and spent time and effort to make the Affordable Care Act, and America’s health care system, work even better.

What your efforts have meant is the start of a new phase, where professionals like you and organizations like yours come together in one new network with one big goal, and that is to continue to improve the cost and quality of health care in America.

A lot of you have already taken steps on your own.  The American Cancer Society that’s represented here is committed to teaching its members about how new patient-centered approaches can improve cancer care.  Governor Markell of Delaware, who’s here, has set a goal of having 80 percent of his citizens receive care through new and improved payment and delivery models within five years.  And Dr. Glenn Madrid, of Grand Junction, Colorado, is using a new care model that allowed him to hire case coordinators and use better technology so that patients have access to him 24/7.  I don’t know when that lets him sleep — but his patients are sleeping better.

And these are examples of efforts that show we don’t need to reinvent the wheel; you’re already figuring out what works to reduce infections in hospitals or help patients with complicated needs.  What we have to do is to share these best practices, these good ideas, including new ways to pay for care so that we’re rewarding quality.  And that’s what this network is all about.

In fact, just five years in, the Affordable Care Act has already helped improve the quality of health care across the board.  A lot of the attention has been rightly focused on people’s access to care, and that obviously was a huge motivator for us passing the Affordable Care Act — making sure that people who didn’t have health insurance have the security of health insurance.

But what was also a central notion in the Affordable Care Act was we had an inefficient system with a lot of waste that didn’t also deliver the kind of quality that was needed that often put health care providers in a box where they wanted to do better for their patients, but financial incentives were skewed the other way.

And so the work that we’ve been able to do is already spurring the kinds of changes that we had hoped for.  It’s helped reduce hospital readmission rates dramatically.  It’s a major reason why we’ve seen 50,000 fewer preventable patient deaths in hospitals.  And if you want to know what that means, ask Alicia Cole, who suffers — Alicia is right here — who suffers the long-term effects of a hospital-acquired infection.  And she is here today because she doesn’t want anybody else to endure what she has.  And it’s preventable if we set up good practices, and financial incentives, reimbursement incentives, are aligned with those best practices.

So making sure that the Affordable Care Act works as intended, to not only deliver access to care but also to improve the quality of care and the cost of care, that’s something that requires all of us to work together.  That’s part of what the law is all about.  It’s making health coverage more affordable and more effective for all of us.  And in a lot of ways, it’s working better than many of us, including me, anticipated.  (Laughter.)

Wherever you are, here’s why you should care about making this system more efficient, and here’s why you should care that we keep the Affordable Care Act in place.

If you get insurance through your employer, like most Americans do, the ACA gave you new savings and new protections.  If you’ve got a pre-existing condition like diabetes or cancer, if you’ve had heartburn or a heart attack, this law means that you can no longer be charged more or denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, ever.  It’s the end of the discrimination against the sick in America, and all of us are sick sometimes.

If you don’t have health insurance, you can go online to the marketplace and choose from an array of quality, affordable private plans.  Every governor was given the option to expand Medicaid for his or her citizens, although only 28 have chosen to do so — so far.  But after five years of the ACA, more than 16 million uninsured Americans have gained health care coverage — 16 million.  In just over one year, the ranks of the uninsured have dropped by nearly one-third — one-third.

If you’re a woman, you can no longer be charged more just for being a woman.  And you know there are a lot of women.  (Laughter.)  Like more than 50 percent.  (Laughter.)  Preventive care, like routine checkups and immunizations and contraception now come with no additional out-of-pocket costs.

If you’re a young person, you can now stay on your parents’ plan until you turn 26.  And if you want to turn that new idea into a business, if you’re going to try different jobs, even a different career, you now have the freedom to do it because you can buy health care that’s portable and not tied to your employer.  Most people have options that cost less than 100 bucks a month.

If you’re a business owner — because when we put forward the Affordable Care Act, there was a lot of question about how it would affect business; well, it turns out employer premiums rose at a rate tied for the lowest on record.  If premiums had kept growing at the rate we saw in the last decade, then either the average family premium, paid by the family or paid by the business, would be $1,800 higher than it is today.  That’s 1,800 bucks that businesses can use to higher and invest, or that’s 1,800 bucks that stays in that family’s bank account, shows up in their paycheck.

If you’re a senior — more than 9 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved an average of $1,600 on their prescriptions, adding up to over $15 billion in savings.  There were fears promoted that somehow this was going to undermine Medicare.  Well, it turns out the life of the Medicare Trust Fund has been extended by 13 years since this law has passed.

And, relevant to the topic today, we’re moving Medicare toward a payment model that rewards quality of care instead of quantity of care.  We don’t want the incentives to be skewed so that providers feel obliged to do more tests; we want them to do the right tests.  We want them, perhaps, to save — to invest some money on the front end to prevent disease and not just on the back end to treat disease.  And so these changes are encouraging doctors and hospitals to focus on getting better outcomes for their patients.

As we speak, Congress is working to fix the Medicare physician payment system.  I’ve got my pen ready to sign a good, bipartisan bill — (applause) — which would be really exciting.  I love when Congress passes bipartisan bills that I can sign.  (Laughter.)  It’s always very encouraging.  And I want to thank everybody here today for their work in supporting new models of care that will benefit all Americans.

But the bottom line is this for the American people:  The Affordable Care Act, this law, is saving money for families and for businesses.  This law is also saving lives — lives that touch all of us.  It’s working despite countless attempts to repeal, undermine, defund, and defame this law.

It’s not the “job-killer” that critics have warned about for five years.  When this law was passed, our businesses began the longest streak of private-sector job growth on record:  60 straight months, five straight years, 12 million new jobs.

It’s not the fiscal disaster critics warned about for five years.  Health care prices are rising at the slowest rate in nearly 50 years, which has helped cut our deficit by two-thirds since I took office.  Before the ACA, health care was the single biggest driver driving up our projected deficits.  Today, health care is the single biggest factor driving those projections down.

I mean, we have been promised a lot of things these past five years that didn’t turn out to be the case:  death panels, doom.  (Laughter.)  A serious alternative from Republicans in Congress.  (Laughter.)

The budget they introduced last week would literally double the number of the uninsured in America.  And in their defense, there are two reasons why coming up with their own alternative has proven to be difficult.

First, it’s because the Affordable Care Act pretty much was their plan before I adopted it — (laughter) — based on conservative, market-based principles developed by the Heritage Foundation and supported by Republicans in Congress, and deployed by a guy named Mitt Romney in Massachusetts to great effect.  If they want to take credit for this law, they can.  I’m happy to share it.  (Laughter.)

And second, it’s because health reform is really hard and the people here who are in the trenches know that.  Good people from both parties have tried and failed to get it done for 100 years, because every public policy has some trade-offs, especially when it affects one-sixth of the American economy and applies to the very personal needs of every individual American.

And we’ve made our share of mistakes since we passed this law.  But we also know beyond a shred of a doubt that the policy has worked.  Coverage is up.  Cost growth is at a historic low.  Deficits have been slashed.  Lives have been saved.  So if anybody wants to join us in the spirit of the people who have put aside differences to come here today and help make the law work even better, come on board.

On the other hand, for folks who are basing their entire political agenda on repealing the law, you’ve got to explain how kicking millions of families off their insurance is somehow going to make us more free.  Or why forcing millions of families to pay thousands of dollars more will somehow make us more secure.  Or why we should go back to the days when women paid more for coverage than men.  Or a preexisting condition locked so many of us out of insurance.

And if that’s your argument, then you should meet somebody like Anne Ha, who is here.  Anne is 28 years old.  Where’s Anne?  There you are.  Anne runs her own business in Philadelphia.  And she thought what many of us think when we’re young — I no longer qualify — (laughter) — that she was too young, too healthy to bother with health insurance.  She went to the gym every day.  She ate healthy, looks great, felt invincible.  Why pay a doctor just to tell her she’s okay?

But then her mom called, as moms sometimes do, and told Anne to get insured against the “what ifs” of life.  What if you get sick?  What if you get into a car accident?  So Anne, dutiful daughter that she was, went to HealthCare.gov, checked out her options in the marketplace.  And thanks to the tax credits available to her under this law, she got covered for 85 bucks a month.  Four months later, Anne was diagnosed with early-stage stomach cancer.  Anne underwent surgery, endured chemo.  Today, she’s recovering.  She looks great.  She’s here with us at the White House.  She invited me to her wedding.  I told her you don’t want the President at her wedding.  (Laughter.)

“If I didn’t have insurance,” Anne wrote, “my stomach cancer would have gone undiscovered, slowly and silently killing me.  But because I did have insurance, I was given a chance to live a long and happy life.”  (Applause.)

And so in September, Anne is going to be marrying her fiancé, Tom.  And she’s convinced him to get covered, too.  And I do appreciate, Michelle appreciates the invitation.  As I said, we have to mag people at the wedding, and it spoils the fun.  (Laughter.)

But here are two lessons from Anne’s story.  Number one:  Listen to your mom.  (Laughter.)  Number two:  The Affordable Care Act works.  And it’s working not just to make sure that folks like Anne get coverage, but it’s also working to make sure that the system as a whole is providing better quality at a better price, freeing up our providers to do the things that led them to get into health care in the first place — and that’s help people.  It works.

Five years ago, we declared that in the United States of America, the security of quality, affordable health care was a privilege — was not a privilege, but a right.  And today, we’ve got citizens all across the country, all of you here today who are helping make that right a reality for every American, regardless of your political beliefs, or theirs.  And we’re saving money in the process.  And we’re cutting the deficit in the process.  And we’re helping businesses in their bottom lines in the process.  We’re making this country more competitive in the process.

And it’s not going to happen overnight.  There are still all kinds of bumps along the way.  Health care is complicated stuff.  And the hospital executives who are here, and the doctors who are here, and the consumer advocates who are here can tell you — all the complications and the quirks not just to the Affordable Care Act, but just generally making the system more rational and more efficient, it takes some time.  But we’re on our way.  We’re making progress.

And if all of us summon the same focus, the same kind of courage and wisdom and hard work that so many of you in this room display; and if we keep working not against one another, but for one another, with one another, we will not just make progress in health care.  We’re going to keep on making sure that across the board we’re living up to our highest ideals.

So I very much am appreciative of what all of you are doing.  I’m very proud of you.  And why don’t you guys get back to work?  (Laughter.)  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
10:59 A.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts March 19, 2015: Monica Lewinsky’s speech at TED 2015 Conference about Bill Clinton Scandal and Cyber-Bullying Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Monica Lewinsky’s speech at TED 2015 Conference about Bill Clinton Scandal and Cyber-Bullying Transcript

Monica Lewinsky speaks at TED2015 - Truth and Dare, March 19 2015, Vancouver Convention Center. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Monica Lewinsky

You are looking at a woman who was publicly silent for a decade. Obviously that has changed, but only recently.

It was several months ago that I gave my very first, major public talk at the Forbes 30 Under 30 summit.

1500 brilliant people, all under the age of 30. That meant that in 1998 the oldest among the group were only 14 and the youngest just 4.

I joked with them that some might only have heard of me from rap songs. Yes, I am in rap songs. Almost 40 rap songs.

But the night of my speech, a surprising thing happened. At the age of 41, I was hit on by a 27-year-old guy. I know, right? He was charming and I was flattered and I declined. Do you know what his unsuccessful pickup line was? He could make me feel 22 again.

I realized later that night I am probably the only person over 40 who does not want to be 22 again.

At the age of 22 I fell in love with my boss. And at the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences.

Can I see a show of hands of anyone here who  didn’t make a mistake or do something they regretted at 22? Yep, that’s what I thought. So like me, at 22, a few of you may have taken wrong turns and fallen in love with the wrong person. Maybe even your boss.

Unlike me, your boss probably wasn’t the President of the United States of America.

Of course, life is full of surprises.

Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of my mistake. And I regret that mistake deeply.

In 1998, after having been swept up into an improbable romance, I was then swept up into the eye of a political, legal and media maelstrom like we had never seen before. Remember, just a few years earlier, news was consumed in just three places: reading a newspaper or magazine, listening to a radio, or watching television. That was it.

But that wasn’t my fate. Instead, this scandal was brought to you by the digital revolution. That meant we could access all the information we wanted, when we wanted it, anytime, anywhere. And when the story broke in January, 1998, it broke online. It was the first time the traditional news was usurped by the internet for a major news story. A click that reverberated around the world.

What that meant for me personally was that overnight I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly-humiliated one worldwide. I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on the global scale almost instantaneously.

This rush to judgement enabled by technology led to mobs of virtual stone-throwers. Granted, it was before social media, but people could still comment online, email stories and of course, email cruel jokes. News sources plastered photos of me all over to sell newspapers, banner ads online, and to keep people tuned to the TV.

Do you recall a particular image of me, say, wearing a beret? Now, I admit I made mistakes, especially wearing that beret. But the attention an judgement I received, not the story, but that I personally received, was unprecedented.

I was branded as a tramp. Tart. Slut. Whore. Bimbo. And, of course, “That Woman”. I was seen by many, but actually known by few. And I get it. It was easy to forget that “that woman” was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken.

When this happened to me 17 years ago, there was no name for it. Now we call it cyber-bulling and online harassment.

Today I want to share some of my experiences, and talk about how those experiences helped shape my cultural observations, and how my past experiences can lead to a change that can lead to less suffering for others.

In 1998 I lost my reputation and my dignity. I lost almost everything. And I almost lost my life.

Let me paint a picture for you. It is September of 1998. I am sitting in a windowless office room inside the Office of the Independent Counsel, underneath humming flourscent lights. I am listening to the sound of my voice. My voice on surreptitiously taped phone calls that a supposed friend had made the year before. I am here because I’ve been legally required to authenticate all 20 hours of taped conversation. For the past eight months, the mysterious content of these conversations has hung like the Sword of Damocles over my head.

I mean, who can remember what they said a year ago?

Scared and mortified, I listened. Listened as I prattled on about the flotsam and jetsam of the day. Listen as I confess my love for the president. And of course, my heartbreak. Listened to my sometimes catty, sometimes churlish, sometimes silly self being cruel, unforgiving, uncouth. Listened deeply, deeply ashamed of the worst version of myself. A self I don’t even recognize.

A few days later, the Starr Report is released to Congress and all of those tapes and transcripts, those stolen words, form a part of it. That people can read the transcripts is horrific enough. But a few weeks later the audio tapes are aired on TV, and significant portions are made available online.

The public humiliation was excruciating. Life was almost unbearable.

This was not something happened with regularity back in 1998. And by this, I mean the stealing of people’s private words, actions, conversations or photos, and then making them public. Public without consent, public without context, and pubic without compassion.

Fast forward 12 years to 2010 and now social media has been born. The landscape has sadly become much more populated with instances like mine, whether or not someone actually made a mistake. And now it is for both public and private people. The consequences for some have become dire. Very dire.

I was on the phone with my mom in September, 2010 and we were talking about the news of a young college freshman from Rutgers University named Tyler Clementi.

Sweet, sensitive, creative Tyler was secretly webcammed by his room mate while being intimate with another man. When the online world learned of this incident, the ridicule and cyber-bullying ignited. A few days later, Tyler jumped from the George Washington Bridge to his death. He was 18.

My mom was beside herself about what happened to Tyler and his family and she was gutted with pain in a way I just couldn’t understand.

And then eventually, she was reliving 1998. Reliving a time when she sat beside my bed every night. Reliving a time when she made me shower with the bathroom door opened. And reliving a time when both of my parents feared I would be humiliated to death. Literally.

Today too many parents haven’t had the chance to step in and rescue their loved ones. Too many have learned have of their child’s humiliation and suffering after it was too late.

Tyler’s tragic, senseless death was a turning point for me. It served to recontextualize my experiences and I then began to look at the world of humiliation and bullying around me and see something different.

In 1998 we had no way of knowing where this brave new technology called the Internet would take us. Since then it has connected people in unimaginable ways, joining lost siblings, saving lives, launching revolutions.

But the darkness, cyber-bullying and slut-shaming that I experienced had mushroomed. Every day online people, especially young people who are not developmentally equipped to handle this, are so abused and humiliated that they can’t imagine living to the next day. And some, tragically, don’t. And there is nothing virtually about that.

ChildLine, a UK-based service that is focussed on helping young people on various issue, released a staggering statistic late last year. From 2012 to 2013, there was an 87 per cent increase in calls and emails related to cyber-bullying. A meta analysis done out of the Netherlands showed that for the first time, cyber-bullying was leading to suicidal ideations more significantly than offline bullying.

And you know what shocked me, although it shouldn’t have, was other research that determined that humiliation was a more intensely felt emotion that either happiness or even anger.

Cruelty to others is nothing new. But online, technologically-enhanced shaming is amplified, uncontained and permanently accessible.

The echo of embarrassment used to extend only as far as your family, village, school or community. But now it is the online community too. Millions of people can stab you anonymously with their words, and that is a lot of pain. And there are no perimeters around how many people can publicly observe you and put you in a public stockade.

There is a very personal price to public humiliation. And the growth of the internet has jacked up that price. For nearly two decades now we have slowly been sowing the seeds of humiliation and shame in our cultural soil, both on and offline.

Gossip websites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers all traffic in shame. It has led to desensitization and a permissive environment online which lends itself to  trolls, trolling, cyber-bullying and invasion of privacy. This shift has created what Professor Nicolas Vilas calls a culture of humiliation.

Consider a few common examples just from the past six months alone.

Snapchat, the service which is mainly used by the younger generations and claims that its messages only have the life span of a few seconds. You can imagine the range of content that gets. A third-party app that SnapChatters used to preserve the life span of the messages was hacked, and 100,000 personal conversations, photos and videos were leaked online to now have a lifetime of forever.

Jennifer Lawrence and several other actors had their iCloud accounts hacked and private, intimate nude photos were plastered across the internet without their permission.

One gossip website had over one million hits for this one story.

And what about the Sony Pictures cyber-hacking? The documents that which received the most attention were private emails that had maximum public embarrassment value.

But in this culture of humiliation, there is another kind of price tag attached to public shaming. The price does not measure the cost to the victim, which Tyler and many others, notably women and minorities and members of the LGBTQ community have paid, but the price measures the profit of those who prey on them.

This invasion of others is a raw material efficiently and ruthlessly mined, packaged and sold at a profit. A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry.

How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars. We are in a dangerous cycle. The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we become to the human lives behind it. And the more numb we get, the more we click.

All the while, somebody is making money off of the back of someone else’s suffering. With every click we make a choice. The more we saturate our culture with public shaming, the more accepted it is, the more we will see behaviour like trolling, cyber-bullying, some forms of hacking and online harassment.

Why? Because they all have humiliation at their cores. This behaviour is a symptom of the culture we’ve created. Just think about it.

Changing behaviour begins with evolving beliefs. We’ve seen that to be true with racism, homophobia and plenty of other biases today and in the past. As we have changed beliefs about same-sex marriage, more people have been offered equal freedoms. When we began valuing sustainability, more people began to recycle.

So as far as our culture of humiliation goes, what we need is a cultural revolution. Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop. And it is time for an intervention on the internet and in our culture.

The shift begins with something simple, but it is not easy. We need to return to a long-held value of compassion. Compassion and empathy. Online we have a compassion deficit and an empathy crisis.

Researcher Berne Brown said, and I quote, “shame can’t survive empathy. Shame cannot survive empathy.”

I have seen some very dark days in my life. It was the compassion and empathy from my family, my friends, professionals, and even strangers, that saved me.

Even empathy from one person can make a difference. The theory of minority influence proposed by social psychologist Serge Muscovici says that even in small numbers, when there is consistency over time, change can happen.

In the online world we can foster minority influence by becoming “up standers”. To become an upstander means instead of bystander apathy, we can post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation.

Trust me, compassionate comments help abate the negativity. We can also counteract the culture by supporting organizations that deal with these kinds of issues, like the Tyler Clementi Foundation in the US. In the UK there is anti-bullying Pro, and in Australia there is Project Rocket.

We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression. But we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression. We all want to be heard. But let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention.

The internet is the superhighway for the Id. But online, showing empathy for others benefits us all

and helps create a safer and better world.

We need to communicate online with compassion, consume news with compassion and click with compassion. Just imagine walking a mile in someone else’s headline.

I’d like to end on a personal note. In the past nine months the question I have asked most is why.

Why now, why now was I sticking my head above the parapet. You can read between the lines in those questions, and the answer has nothing to do with politics. The top note answer answer was, and is, because it is time. Time to stop tip-toeing around my past, time to stop living a life of oppoprium, and time to take back my narrative.

It is also not just about saving myself. Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know on thing. You can survive it.

I know it is hard. It may not be painless, quick or easy. But you can insist on a different ending to your story. Have compassion for yourself.

We all deserve compassion. And to live both online and off in a more compassionate world.

Thank you for listening.

Full Text Obama Presidency March 14, 2015: President Barack Obama’s remarks from the Gridiron Club Dinner — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama’s remarks from the Gridiron Club Dinner

Source: WaPo, 3-14-15

10:05 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you! (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. Please have a seat. Thank you so much. What a beautiful evening. Everybody looks wonderful. It’s like Downton Abbey, except less funny. (Laughter.) This is my third appearance at this dinner as President. And I predict you will laugh harder than ever. I’m not saying I’m any funnier. I’m saying weed is now legal in D.C. (Laughter and applause.) I know that’s how you guys are getting through this dinner. That’s why you ate the food. (Laughter.)

This is also my first gridiron with a new press secretary, Josh Earnest, who’s doing a great job. (Applause.) The other day, Josh came into the Oval and he said, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that people are finally rallying around their charismatic African-American president. The bad news — it’s Clarence Page.” (Laughter.)

Clarence and I go way back.

MR. PAGE: Way back.

THE PRESIDENT: Way back. Before he took office, he felt comfortable asking me for tips on a being a successful black president. (Laughter.) And I told him, you want to keep your birth certificate handy. (Laughter and applause.)

Now, let’s face it, being President does age you. I mean, look at me. (Laughter.) I was hoping Fred Thompson would be the Republican speaker so I could buy a reverse mortgage. (Laughter and applause.) You start getting crankier as you get older. Next week, I’m signing an executive order to get off my lawn. (Laughter.) And getting older changes you. For example, coffee really disagrees with me these days — which is why John Boehner just invited coffee to address the joint House. (Laughter.)

It is amazing, though, how time flies. Just a few years ago, I could never imagine ever being in my fifties. And when it comes to my approval ratings, I still can’t. (Laughter.) I mean, think about how things have changed since 2008. Back then, I was the young, tech-savvy candidate of the future. Now I’m yesterday’s news and Hillary has got a server in her house. (Laughter.) I didn’t even know you could have one of those in your house. (Laughter and applause.) I am so far behind. Did you know that? I would have gotten one.

On the bright side, by the time I’m done with this job, I will finally have enough life experience for a memoir. (Laughter.)

My Vice President isn’t here tonight. He told me, “If I want to hear people talking for five hours straight, I’ll just stay home alone.” (Laughter.) And, by the way, this is just a quick aside — Joe rubs my shoulders too. (Laughter.) I just wanted everybody to know. He does. It’s not bad, it feels pretty good. I don’t let him give me a pedicure, but — (laughter.)

Of course, I want to acknowledge my fellow speakers tonight. Give it up for Terry McAuliffe — (applause) — the Governor of Virginia and the mayor of “This Town.” Terry loves fundraising. He’s the first person who’s actually been upset to learn you can’t ask people for tons of money once you become the Governor of Virginia. Well, except maybe the previous Governor of Virginia. (Laughter.)

I also want to congratulate Scott Walker. He did a great job tonight. Give it up for him. (Applause.) Governor Perry, don’t you think he did a great job tonight? I noticed you weren’t clapping that much.

This lame duck stuff is fun. (Laughter.)

Despite a great performance tonight, Scott has had a few recent stumbles. The other week he said he didn’t know whether or not I was a Christian. And I was taken aback, but fortunately my faith teaches us forgiveness. So, Governor Walker, as-salamu alaykum. (Laughter and applause.)

Scott also recently punted on a question of evolution, which I do think is a problem. I absolutely believe in the theory of evolution — when it comes to gay marriage.

And, finally, Governor Walker got some heat for staying silent when Rudy Giuliani said I don’t love America — which I also think is a problem. Think about it, Scott — if I did not love America, I wouldn’t have moved here from Kenya. (Laughter and applause.) Still trying to deal with the overstaying the visa thing. But hopefully the court is okay with the immigration initiatives.

Governors Walker and Perry are not the only possible 2016-ers here tonight. We also have Dr. Ben Carson. He wants to make it clear that being here was a choice. The fact is, Doctor, embracing homosexuality is not something you do because you go to prison. It’s something you do because your Vice President can’t keep a secret on “Meet the Press.” (Laughter.)

But for all the gaffes, all the slip-ups, I think 2016 will come down to the issues. For example, equal pay. Did you know that the average male presidential candidate earns $150,000 less per speech than a woman doing the same job? (Laughter.) It’s terrible. We got to fix that.

And we can’t just focus on 2016, people. We just had an election. This new Congress is just getting started, which is why I want to acknowledge the leader of the House Republicans — as soon as I figure out who that is. (Laughter.)

The fact is, I really genuinely like John Boehner. But from your press reports, I gather he may be in real trouble. Over the past several weeks, many of you have been writing about a possible conservative coup — or as Bill O’Reilly calls it, “reporting from the war zone.” He’s been sniffing around. The good news is, Bill has an eyewitness who can back up some of his claims. The bad news, of course, is that it’s Brian Williams.

And as much as I like to make fun of my friends in the GOP and the media, it’s not like this is an easy time to be a Democrat. They’re turning last year’s midterms into a movie; it’s called “50 Shades of Red.”

But, as was noted, we are determined to bounce back. The Democratic Party recently analyzed the midterm elections, and concluded we have to spend more time focused on older white voters — which is why I’m here. (Laughter and applause.)

Staying focused, moving forward — it’s not always easy in this climate. I mean, you guys are always picking us apart. Recently, I made some comments about the Crusades, and people started blowing it all out of proportion, scrutinizing every single word. What is this, the Spanish Inquisition? (Laughter.)

And then I got flak for appearing on a video for BuzzFeed, trying to reach younger voters. What nonsense. You know, you don’t diminish your office by taking a selfie. You do it by sending a poorly written letter to Iran. (Laughter and applause.) Really, that wasn’t a joke.

Now, as with everyone else, I want to end the night by saying something a little more serious. We are producing and consuming news in ways that we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago, let alone a few decades ago. But I believe that having access to more information than ever hasn’t diminished people’s hunger for understanding that news, and processing it. And they want to see an even deeper sense of what’s going on in their world because of so much change.

And as much as politicians and the press go at it sometimes, I think that without the outstanding work that so many of you do every single day, then our need for understanding will not be met and our democracy will be poor.

When there’s a crisis playing out around the world, or a milestone in our history like the one that we commemorated at Selma last week, we count on you to provide context, to see past the superficial, and in some cases, to risk everything in pursuit of the true story, and to hold us — those of us in power — to account.

So while the world of media may be changing, I am confident that our democracy will always be able to rely on the tradition represented by the reporters in this room: your persistence, your dedication, and your lifelong commitment to helping all of us better understand this world. That’s how our democracy works. And we are very grateful for the job that you do.

So thank you, God bless you. And God bless one of the many countries that I love. (Laughter and applause.) Thank you.

END

Full Text Obama Presidency March 7, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches — Transcripts

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches

Source: WH,  3-7-15

Edmund Pettus Bridge

Selma, Alabama

2:17 P.M. CST

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, President Obama!

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, you know I love you back.  (Applause.)

It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes.  And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning 50 years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind.  A day like this was not on his mind.  Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about.  Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked.  A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones.  The air was thick with doubt, anticipation and fear.  And they comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

“No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.”

And then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, and a book on government — all you need for a night behind bars — John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

President and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Mayor Evans, Sewell, Reverend Strong, members of Congress, elected officials, foot soldiers, friends, fellow Americans:

As John noted, there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided.  Many are sites of war — Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg.  Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character — Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place.  In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher — all that history met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America.  And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America — that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation.  The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them.  We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice.

They did as Scripture instructed:  “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  And in the days to come, they went back again and again.  When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came –- black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope.  A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing.  (Laughter.)  To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would well up and reach President Johnson.  And he would send them protection, and speak to the nation, echoing their call for America and the world to hear:  “We shall overcome.”  (Applause.)  What enormous faith these men and women had.  Faith in God, but also faith in America.

The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing.  But they gave courage to millions.  They held no elected office.  But they led a nation.  They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities –- but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.  (Applause.)

What they did here will reverberate through the ages.  Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them.  Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse –- they were called everything but the name their parents gave them.  Their faith was questioned.  Their lives were threatened.  Their patriotism challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?  (Applause.)  What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?  (Applause.)

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience.  That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance.  It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:  “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  (Applause.)

These are not just words.  They’re a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny.  For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all of our citizens in this work.  And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma.  That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.  (Applause.)

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny.  It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.  (Applause.)

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths.  It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo.  That’s America.  (Applause.)

That’s what makes us unique.  That’s what cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity.  Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down that wall.  Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid.  Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule.  They saw what John Lewis had done.  From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest power and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

They saw that idea made real right here in Selma, Alabama.  They saw that idea manifest itself here in America.

Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed.  Political and economic and social barriers came down.  And the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus all the way to the Oval Office.  (Applause.)

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American.  Women marched through those doors.  Latinos marched through those doors.  Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities — they all came through those doors.  (Applause.)  Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.  And what a solemn debt we owe.  Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough.  If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done.  (Applause.)  The American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

Selma teaches us, as well, that action requires that we shed our cynicism.  For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country.  And I understood the question; the report’s narrative was sadly familiar.  It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement.  But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed.  What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic.  It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom.  And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.  (Applause.)

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America.  If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s.  Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed.  Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago.  To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished; that the work that drew men and women to Selma is now complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes.  We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true.  We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.

We know the march is not yet over.  We know the race is not yet won.  We know that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged, all of us, by the content of our character requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth.  “We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin once wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

There’s nothing America can’t handle if we actually look squarely at the problem.  And this is work for all Americans, not just some.  Not just whites.  Not just blacks.  If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination.  All of us will need to feel as they did the fierce urgency of now.  All of us need to recognize as they did that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children.  And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.  (Applause.)

With such an effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some.  Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on –- the idea that police officers are members of the community they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland, they just want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago -– the protection of the law.  (Applause.)  Together, we can address unfair sentencing and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and good workers, and good neighbors.  (Applause.)

With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity.  Americans don’t accept a free ride for anybody, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes.  But we do expect equal opportunity.  And if we really mean it, if we’re not just giving lip service to it, but if we really mean it and are willing to sacrifice for it, then, yes, we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts sights and gives those children the skills they need.  We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote.  (Applause.)  Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote.  As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed.  Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.

How can that be?  The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts.  (Applause.)  President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office.  President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office.  (Applause.)  One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it.  If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year.  That’s how we honor those on this bridge.  (Applause.)

Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or even the President alone.  If every new voter-suppression law was struck down today, we would still have, here in America, one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples.  Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar, the number of bubbles on a bar of soap.  It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life.

What’s our excuse today for not voting?  How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought?  (Applause.)  How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?  Why are we pointing to somebody else when we could take the time just to go to the polling places?  (Applause.)  We give away our power.

Fellow marchers, so much has changed in 50 years.  We have endured war and we’ve fashioned peace.  We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives.  We take for granted conveniences that our parents could have scarcely imagined.  But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship; that willingness of a 26-year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

That’s what it means to love America.  That’s what it means to believe in America.  That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

For we were born of change.  We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.  We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people.  That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction — because we know our efforts matter.  We know America is what we make of it.

Look at our history.  We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, and entrepreneurs and hucksters.  That’s our spirit.  That’s who we are.

We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some.  And we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth.  That is our character.

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free –- Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan.  We’re the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because we want our kids to know a better life.  That’s how we came to be.  (Applause.)

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South.  (Applause.)  We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened up the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent.  And we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, and the Navajo code-talkers, and the Japanese Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied.

We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’re the gay Americans whose blood ran in the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge. (Applause.)

We are storytellers, writers, poets, artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

We’re the inventors of gospel and jazz and blues, bluegrass and country, and hip-hop and rock and roll, and our very own sound with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.  (Applause.)

We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”  We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

That’s what America is.  Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others.  (Applause.)  We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past.  We don’t fear the future; we grab for it.  America is not some fragile thing.  We are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes.  We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit.  That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe old age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day.  You are America.  Unconstrained by habit and convention.  Unencumbered by what is, because you’re ready to seize what ought to be.

For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed.  And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.  Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.”  “We The People.”  “We Shall Overcome.”  “Yes We Can.”  (Applause.)  That word is owned by no one.  It belongs to everyone.  Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer.  Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer.  Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile.  Somebody already got us over that bridge.  When it feels the road is too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on [the] wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not be faint.”  (Applause.)

We honor those who walked so we could run.  We must run so our children soar.  And we will not grow weary.  For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
2:50 P.M. CST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 19, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism | February 19, 2015

Source: WH, 2-19-15

State Department
Washington, D.C.

10:33 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you, John.  Good morning, everyone.  I want to thank John Kerry, not only for his introduction, but for the outstanding leadership of American diplomacy.  John is tireless.  If he has not visited your country yet, he will soon.  And I want to thank you and everybody here at the State Department for organizing and hosting this ministerial today.

Mr. Secretary General, distinguished guests, we are joined by representatives from governments, because we all have a responsibility to ensure the security, the prosperity and the human rights of our citizens.  And we’re joined by leaders of civil society, including many faith leaders, because civil society — reflecting the views and the voices of citizens — is vital to the success of any country.  I thank all of you and I welcome all of you.

We come together from more than 60 countries from every continent.  We speak different languages, born of different races and ethnic groups, belong to different religions.  We are here today because we are united against the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism.

As we speak, ISIL is terrorizing the people of Syria and Iraq and engaging in unspeakable cruelty.  The wanton murder of children, the enslavement and rape of women, threatening religious minorities with genocide, beheading hostages.  ISIL-linked terrorists murdered Egyptians in the Sinai Peninsula, and their slaughter of Egyptian Christians in Libya has shocked the world.   Beyond the region, we’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris, and now Copenhagen.

Elsewhere, Israelis have endured the tragedy of terrorism for decades.  Pakistan’s Taliban has mounted a long campaign of violence against the Pakistani people that now tragically includes the massacre of more than 100 schoolchildren and their teachers.  From Somalia, al-Shabaab terrorists have launched attacks across East Africa.  In Nigeria and neighboring countries, Boko Haram kills and kidnaps men, women and children.

At the United Nations in September, I called on the international community to come together and eradicate violent extremism.  And I challenged countries to come to the General Assembly this fall with concrete steps we can take together.  And I’m grateful for all of you for answering this call.

Yesterday at the White House, we welcomed community groups from the United States, and some from your countries, to focus on how we can empower communities to protect their families and friends and neighbors from violent ideologies and recruitment.  And over the coming months, many of your countries will host summits to build on the work here and to prepare for the General Assembly.  Today, I want to suggest some areas where I believe we can focus on as governments.

First, we must remain unwavering in our fight against terrorist organizations.  And in Afghanistan, our coalition is focused on training and assisting Afghan forces, and we’ll continue to conduct counterterrorism missions against the remnants of al Qaeda in the tribal regions.  When necessary, the United States will continue to take action against al Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen and Somalia.  We will continue to work with partners to help them build up their security forces so that they can prevent ungoverned spaces where terrorists find safe haven, and so they can push back against groups like al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

In Iraq and Syria, our coalition of some 60 nations, including Arab nations, will not relent in our mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  And as a result of a separate ministerial here yesterday, many of our governments will be deepening our cooperation against foreign terrorist fighters by sharing more information and making it harder for fighters to travel to and from Syria and Iraq.

Related to this, and as I said at the United Nations last fall, nations need to break the cycles of conflict — especially sectarian conflict — that have become magnets for violent extremism.  In Syria, Assad’s war against his own people and deliberate stoking of sectarian tensions helped to fuel the rise of ISIL.  And in Iraq, with the failure of the previous government to govern in an inclusive manner, it helped to pave the way for ISIL’s gains there.

The Syrian civil war will only end when there is an inclusive political transition and a government that serves Syrians of all ethnicities and religions.  And across the region, the terror campaigns between Sunnis and Shia will only end when major powers address their differences through dialogue, and not through proxy wars.  So countering violent extremism begins with political, civic and religious leaders rejecting sectarian strife.

Second, we have to confront the warped ideologies espoused by terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIL, especially their attempt to use Islam to justify their violence.  I discussed this at length yesterday.  These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy.  And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that groups like al Qaeda and ISIL are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslim youth.  And Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back, not just on twisted interpretations of Islam, but also on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations; that America and the West are somehow at war with Islam or seek to suppress Muslims; or that we are the cause of every ill in the Middle East.

That narrative sometimes extends far beyond terrorist organizations.  That narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence.  And that hurts all of us, including Islam, and especially Muslims, who are the ones most likely to be killed.

Obviously, there is a complicated history between the Middle East, the West.  And none of us I think should be immune from criticism in terms of specific policies, but the notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie.  And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it.

At the same time, former extremists have the opportunity to speak out, speak the truth about terrorist groups, and oftentimes they can be powerful messengers in debunking these terrorist ideologies.  One said, “This wasn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”  Those voices have to be amplified.

And governments have a role to play.  At minimum, as a basic first step, countries have a responsibility to cut off funding that fuels hatred and corrupts young minds and endangers us all.  We need to do more to help lift up voices of tolerance and peace, especially online.

That’s why the United States is joining, for example, with the UAE to create a new digital communications hub to work with religious and civil society and community leaders to counter terrorist propaganda.  Within the U.S. government, our efforts will be led by our new coordinator of counterterrorism communications — and I’m grateful that my envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Rashad Hussain, has agreed to serve in this new role.  So the United States will do more to help counter hateful ideologies, and today I urge your nations to join us in this urgent work.

Third, we must address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances.  As I said yesterday, poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist, any more than poverty alone causes someone to become a criminal.  There are millions, billions of people who are poor and are law-abiding and peaceful and tolerant, and are trying to advance their lives and the opportunities for their families.

But when people — especially young people — feel entirely trapped in impoverished communities, where there is no order and no path for advancement, where there are no educational opportunities, where there are no ways to support families, and no escape from injustice and the humiliations of corruption — that feeds instability and disorder, and makes those communities ripe for extremist recruitment.  And we have seen that across the Middle East and we’ve seen it across North Africa.  So if we’re serious about countering violent extremism, we have to get serious about confronting these economic grievances.

Here, at this summit, the United States will make new commitments to help young people, including in Muslim communities, to forge new collaborations in entrepreneurship and science and technology.  All our nations can reaffirm our commitment to broad-based development that creates growth and jobs, not just for the few at the top, but for the many.  We can step up our efforts against corruption, so a person can go about their day and an entrepreneur can start a business without having to pay a bribe.

And as we go forward, let’s commit to expanding education, including for girls.  Expanding opportunity, including for women.  Nations will not truly succeed without the contributions of their women.  This requires, by the way, wealthier countries to do more.  But it also requires countries that are emerging and developing to create structures of governance and transparency so that any assistance provided actually works and reaches people.  It’s a two-way street.

Fourth, we have to address the political grievances that terrorists exploit.  Again, there is not a single perfect causal link, but the link is undeniable.  When people are oppressed, and human rights are denied — particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines — when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism.  It creates an environment that is ripe for terrorists to exploit.  When peaceful, democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorist propaganda that violence is the only answer available.

And so we must recognize that lasting stability and real security require democracy.  That means free elections where people can choose their own future, and independent judiciaries that uphold the rule of law, and police and security forces that respect human rights, and free speech and freedom for civil society groups.  And it means freedom of religion — because when people are free to practice their faith as they choose, it helps hold diverse societies together.

And finally, we have to ensure that our diverse societies truly welcome and respect people of all faiths and backgrounds, and leaders set the tone on this issue.

Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL peddle the lie that some of our countries are hostile to Muslims.  Meanwhile, we’ve also seen, most recently in Europe, a rise in inexcusable acts of anti-Semitism, or in some cases, anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-immigrant sentiment.  When people spew hatred towards others — because of their faith or because they’re immigrants — it feeds into terrorist narratives.  If entire communities feel they can never become a full part of the society in which they reside, it feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey.  And we can’t allow cycles of suspicions to tear at the fabric of our countries.

So we all recognize the need for more dialogues across countries and cultures; those efforts are indeed important.  But what’s most needed today, perhaps, are more dialogues within countries — not just across faiths, but also within faiths.

Violent extremists and terrorists thrive when people of different religions or sects pull away from each other and are able to isolate each other and label them as “they” as opposed to “us;” something separate and apart.  So we need to build and bolster bridges of communication and trust.

Terrorists traffic in lies and stereotypes about others — other religions, other ethnic groups.  So let’s share the truth of our faiths with each other.  Terrorists prey upon young impressionable minds.  So let’s bring our youth together to promote understanding and cooperation.  That’s what the United States will do with our virtual exchange program — named after Ambassador Chris Stevens — to connect 1 million young people from America and the Middle East and North Africa for dialogue.  Young people are taught to hate.  It doesn’t come naturally to them.  We, adults, teach them.

I’d like to close by speaking very directly to a painful truth that’s part of the challenge that brings us here today.  In some of our countries, including the United States, Muslim communities are still small, relative to the entire population, and as a result, many people in our countries don’t always know personally of somebody who is Muslim.  So the image they get of Muslims or Islam is in the news.  And given the existing news cycle, that can give a very distorted impression.  A lot of the bad, like terrorists who claim to speak for Islam, that’s absorbed by the general population.  Not enough of the good — the more than 1 billion people around the world who do represent Islam, and are doctors and lawyers and teachers, and neighbors and friends.

So we have to remember these Muslim men and women — the young Palestinian working to build understanding and trust with Israelis, but also trying to give voice to her people’s aspirations.  The Muslim clerics working for peace with Christian pastors and priests in Nigeria and the Central African Republic to put an end to the cycle of hate.  Civil society leaders in Indonesia, one of the world’s largest democracies.  Parliamentarians in Tunisia working to build one of the world’s newest democracies.

Business leaders in India, with one of the world’s largest Muslim populations.  Entrepreneurs unleashing new innovations in places like Malaysia.  Health workers fighting to save lives from polio and from Ebola in West Africa.  And volunteers who go to disaster zones after a tsunami or after an earthquake to ease suffering and help families rebuild.  Muslims who have risked their lives as human shields to protect Coptic churches in Egypt and to protect Christians attending mass in Pakistan and who have tried to protect synagogues in Syria.

The world hears a lot about the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo in Paris, but the world has to also remember the Paris police officer, a Muslim, who died trying to stop them.  The world knows about the attack on the Jews at the kosher supermarket in Paris; we need to recall the worker at that market, a Muslim, who hid Jewish customers and saved their lives.  And when he was asked why he did it, he said, “We are brothers.  It’s not a question of Jews or Christians or Muslims.  We’re all in the same boat, and we have to help each other to get out of this crisis.”

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for being here today.  We come from different countries and different cultures and different faiths, but it is useful for us to take our wisdom from that humble worker who engaged in heroic acts under the most severe of circumstances.

We are all in the same boat.  We have to help each other.  In this work, you will have a strong partner in me and the United States of America.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
10:54 A.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 18, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech in Closing of the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Closing of the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

Source: WH, 2-18-15 

South Court Auditorium

4:20 P.M. EST

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

Well, thank you, Lisa, for the introduction.  Lisa is an example of the countless dedicated public servants across our government, a number of who are here today, who are working tirelessly every single day on behalf of the security and safety of the American people.  So we very much appreciate her.  And thanks to all of you for your attendance and participation in this important summit.

For more than 238 years, the United States of America has not just endured, but we have thrived and surmounted challenges that might have broken a lesser nation.  After a terrible civil war, we repaired our union.  We weathered a Great Depression, became the world’s most dynamic economy.  We fought fascism, liberated Europe.  We faced down communism — and won.  American communities have been destroyed by earthquakes and tornadoes and fires and floods — and each time we rebuild.

The bombing that killed 168 people could not break Oklahoma City.  On 9/11, terrorists tried to bring us to our knees; today a new tower soars above New York City, and America continues to lead throughout the world.  After Americans were killed at Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon, it didn’t divide us; we came together as one American family.

In the face of horrific acts of violence — at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, or at a Jewish community center outside Kansas City — we reaffirmed our commitment to pluralism and to freedom, repulsed by the notion that anyone should ever be targeted because of who they are, or what they look like, or how they worship.

Most recently, with the brutal murders in Chapel Hill of three young Muslim Americans, many Muslim Americans are worried and afraid.  And I want to be as clear as I can be:  As Americans, all faiths and backgrounds, we stand with you in your grief and we offer our love and we offer our support.

My point is this:  As Americans, we are strong and we are resilient.  And when tragedy strikes, when we take a hit, we pull together, and we draw on what’s best in our character — our optimism, our commitment to each other, our commitment to our values, our respect for one another.  We stand up, and we rebuild, and we recover, and we emerge stronger than before.  That’s who we are.  (Applause.)

And I say all this because we face genuine challenges to our security today, just as we have throughout our history.  Challenges to our security are not new.  They didn’t happen yesterday or a week ago or a year ago.  We’ve always faced challenges.  One of those challenges is the terrorist threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL.  But this isn’t our challenge alone.  It’s a challenge for the world.  ISIL is terrorizing the people of Syria and Iraq, beheads and burns human beings in unfathomable acts of cruelty.  We’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa and Sydney and, Paris, and now Copenhagen.

So, in the face of this challenge, we have marshalled the full force of the United States government, and we’re working with allies and partners to dismantle terrorist organizations and protect the American people.  Given the complexities of the challenge and the nature of the enemy — which is not a traditional army — this work takes time, and will require vigilance and resilience and perspective.  But I’m confident that, just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.

And part of what gives me that confidence is the overwhelming response of the world community to the savagery of these terrorists — not just revulsion, but a concrete commitment to work together to vanquish these organizations.

At the United Nations in September, I called on the international community to come together and eradicate this scourge of violent extremism.  And I want to thank all of you — from across America and around the world — for answering this call.  Tomorrow at the State Department, governments and civil society groups from more than 60 countries will focus on the steps that we can take as governments.  And I’ll also speak about how our nations have to remain relentless in our fight — our counterterrorism efforts — against groups that are plotting against our counties.

But we are here today because of a very specific challenge  — and that’s countering violent extremism, something that is not just a matter of military affairs.  By “violent extremism,” we don’t just mean the terrorists who are killing innocent people.  We also mean the ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists –the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence.  We all know there is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist, so there’s no way to predict who will become radicalized.  Around the world, and here in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths, by people of different faiths — which is, of course, a betrayal of all our faiths.  It’s not unique to one group, or to one geography, or one period of time.

But we are here at this summit because of the urgent threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL.  And this week we are focused on prevention — preventing these groups from radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring others to violence in the first place.  I’ve called upon governments to come to the United Nations this fall with concrete steps that we can take together.  And today, what I want to do is suggest several areas where I believe we can concentrate our efforts.

First, we have to confront squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence.  Leading up to this summit, there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge.  So I want to be very clear about how I see it.

Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy.  They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam.  That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.”  And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam.  That’s how they recruit.  That’s how they try to radicalize young people.  We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie.  Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek.  They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists.  (Applause.)  And we are not at war with Islam.  We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.  (Applause.)

Now, just as those of us outside Muslim communities need to reject the terrorist narrative that the West and Islam are in conflict, or modern life and Islam are in conflict, I also believe that Muslim communities have a responsibility as well.  Al Qaeda and ISIL do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts.  They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.

Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology.  They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism.  No religion is responsible for terrorism.  People are responsible for violence and terrorism.  (Applause.)

And to their credit, there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith.  They want to make very clear what Islam stands for.  And we’re joined by some of these leaders today.  These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice, and tolerance toward others; that terrorism is prohibited; that the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.  Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.

But if we are going to effectively isolate terrorists, if we’re going to address the challenge of their efforts to recruit our young people, if we’re going to lift up the voices of tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim community, then we’ve got to acknowledge that their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion.

The reality — which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to — is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances  — sometimes that’s accurate — does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy; does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values.

So those beliefs exist.  In some communities around the world they are widespread.  And so it makes individuals — especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated — more ripe for radicalization.  And so we’ve got to be able to talk honestly about those issues.  We’ve got to be much more clear about how we’re rejecting certain ideas.

So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilizations.  Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.  (Applause.)

And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain universal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.

As we go forward, we need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion — and we especially need to do it online.  We also need to lift up the voices of those who know the hypocrisy of groups like ISIL firsthand, including former extremists.  Their words speak to us today.  And I know in some of the discussions these voices have been raised: “I witnessed horrible crimes committed by ISIS.”  “It’s not a revolution or jihad…it’s a slaughter…I was shocked by what I did.”  “This isn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”  “I’m 28 — is this the only future I’m able to imagine?”  That’s the voice of so many who were temporarily radicalized and then saw the truth.  And they’ve warned other young people not to make the same mistakes as they did.  “Do not run after illusions.”  “Do not be deceived.”  “Do not give up your life for nothing.”  We need to lift up those voices.

And in all this work, the greatest resource are communities themselves, especially like those young people who are here today.  We are joined by talented young men and women who are pioneering new innovations, and new social media tools, and new ways to reach young people.  We’re joined by leaders from the private sector, including high-tech companies, who want to support your efforts.  And I want to challenge all of us to build new partnerships that unleash the talents and creativity of young people — young Muslims — not just to expose the lies of extremists but to empower youth to service, and to lift up people’s lives here in America and around the world.  And that can be a calling for your generation.

So that’s the first challenge — we’ve got to discredit these ideologies.  We have to tackle them head on.  And we can’t shy away from these discussions.  And too often, folks are, understandably, sensitive about addressing some of these root issues, but we have to talk about them, honestly and clearly.  (Applause.)  And the reason I believe we have to do so is because I’m so confident that when the truth is out we’ll be successful.     Now, a second challenge is we do have to address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances.  Poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist, any more than poverty alone causes somebody to become a criminal.  There are millions of people — billions of people  — in the world who live in abject poverty and are focused on what they can do to build up their own lives, and never embrace violent ideologies.

Conversely, there are terrorists who’ve come from extraordinarily wealthy backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden.  What’s true, though, is that when millions of people — especially youth — are impoverished and have no hope for the future, when corruption inflicts daily humiliations on people, when there are no outlets by which people can express their concerns, resentments fester.  The risk of instability and extremism grow.  Where young people have no education, they are more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and radical ideas, because it’s not tested against anything else, they’ve got nothing to weigh.  And we’ve seen this across the Middle East and North Africa.

And terrorist groups are all too happy to step into a void. They offer salaries to their foot soldiers so they can support their families.  Sometimes they offer social services — schools, health clinics — to do what local governments cannot or will not do.  They try to justify their violence in the name of fighting the injustice of corruption that steals from the people — even while those terrorist groups end up committing even worse abuses, like kidnapping and human trafficking.

So if we’re going to prevent people from being susceptible to the false promises of extremism, then the international community has to offer something better.  And the United States intends to do its part.  We will keep promoting development and growth that is broadly shared, so more people can provide for their families.  We’ll keep leading a global effort against corruption, because the culture of the bribe has to be replaced by good governance that doesn’t favor certain groups over others.

Countries have to truly invest in the education and skills and job training that our extraordinary young people need.  And by the way, that’s boys and girls, and men and women, because countries will not be truly successful if half their populations — if their girls and their women are denied opportunity.  (Applause.)  And America will continue to forge new partnerships in entrepreneurship and innovation, and science and technology, so young people from Morocco to Malaysia can start new businesses and create more prosperity.

Just as we address economic grievances, we need to face a third challenge — and that’s addressing the political grievances that are exploited by terrorists.  When governments oppress their people, deny human rights, stifle dissent, or marginalize ethnic and religious groups, or favor certain religious groups over others, it sows the seeds of extremism and violence.  It makes those communities more vulnerable to recruitment.  Terrorist groups claim that change can only come through violence.  And if peaceful change is impossible, that plays into extremist propaganda.

So the essential ingredient to real and lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; it’s more democracy.  (Applause.)  It’s institutions that uphold the rule of law and apply justice equally.  It’s security forces and police that respect human rights and treat people with dignity.  It’s free speech and strong civil societies where people can organize and assemble and advocate for peaceful change.  It’s freedom of religion where all people can practice their faith without fear and intimidation.  (Applause.)  All of this is part of countering violent extremism.

Fourth, we have to recognize that our best partners in all these efforts, the best people to help protect individuals from falling victim to extremist ideologies are their own communities, their own family members.  We have to be honest with ourselves.  Terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL deliberately target their propaganda in the hopes of reaching and brainwashing young Muslims, especially those who may be disillusioned or wrestling with their identity.  That’s the truth.  The high-quality videos, the online magazines, the use of social media, terrorist Twitter accounts — it’s all designed to target today’s young people online, in cyberspace.

And by the way, the older people here, as wise and respected as you may be, your stuff is often boring — (laughter) — compared to what they’re doing.  (Applause.)  You’re not connected.  And as a consequence, you are not connecting.

So these terrorists are a threat, first and foremost, to the communities that they target, which means communities have to take the lead in protecting themselves.  And that is true here in America, as it’s true anywhere else.  When someone starts getting radicalized, family and friends are often the first to see that something has changed in their personality.  Teachers may notice a student becoming withdrawn or struggling with his or her identity, and if they intervene at that moment and offer support, that may make a difference.

Faith leaders may notice that someone is beginning to espouse violent interpretations of religion, and that’s a moment for possible intervention that allows them to think about their actions and reflect on the meaning of their faith in a way that’s more consistent with peace and justice.  Families and friends, coworkers, neighbors, faith leaders — they want to reach out; they want to help save their loved ones and friends, and prevent them from taking a wrong turn.

But communities don’t always know the signs to look for, or have the tools to intervene, or know what works best.  And that’s where government can play a role — if government is serving as a trusted partner.  And that’s where we also need to be honest.  I know some Muslim Americans have concerns about working with government, particularly law enforcement.  And their reluctance is rooted in the objection to certain practices where Muslim Americans feel they’ve been unfairly targeted.

So, in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities.  Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith.  (Applause.)  Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance.  We can’t “securitize” our relationship with Muslim Americans — (applause) — dealing with them solely through the prism of law enforcement. Because when we do, that only reinforces suspicions, makes it harder for us to build the trust that we need to work together.

As part of this summit, we’re announcing that we’re going to increase our outreach to communities, including Muslim Americans. We’re going to step up our efforts to engage with partners and raise awareness so more communities understand how to protect their loved ones from becoming radicalized.  We’ve got to devote more resources to these efforts.  (Applause.)

And as government does more, communities are going to have to step up as well.  We need to build on the pilot programs that have been discussed at this summit already — in Los Angeles, in Minneapolis, in Boston.  These are partnerships that bring people together in a spirit of mutual respect and create more dialogue and more trust and more cooperation.  If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient.  (Applause.)

And finally, we need to do what extremists and terrorists hope we will not do, and that is stay true to the values that define us as free and diverse societies.  If extremists are peddling the notion that Western countries are hostile to Muslims, then we need to show that we welcome people of all faiths.

Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.  (Applause.)  Generations of Muslim immigrants came here and went to work as farmers and merchants and factory workers, helped to lay railroads and build up America.  The first Islamic center in New York City was founded in the 1890s.  America’s first mosque — this was an interesting fact — was in North Dakota.  (Laughter.)

Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders, and protect our nation by serving in uniform, and in our intelligence communities, and in homeland security.  And in cemeteries across our country, including at Arlington, Muslim American heroes rest in peace having given their lives in defense of all of us.  (Applause.)

And of course that’s the story extremists and terrorists don’t want the world to know — Muslims succeeding and thriving in America.  Because when that truth is known, it exposes their propaganda as the lie that it is.  It’s also a story that every American must never forget, because it reminds us all that hatred and bigotry and prejudice have no place in our country.  It’s not just counterproductive; it doesn’t just aid terrorists; it’s wrong.  It’s contrary to who we are.

I’m thinking of a little girl named Sabrina who last month sent me a Valentine’s Day card in the shape of a heart.  It was the first Valentine I got.  (Laughter.)  I got it from Sabrina before Malia and Sasha and Michelle gave me one.  (Laughter.)  So she’s 11 years old.  She’s in the 5th grade.  She’s a young Muslim American.  And she said in her Valentine, “I enjoy being an American.”  And when she grows up, she wants to be an engineer — or a basketball player.  (Laughter.)  Which are good choices. (Laughter.)  But she wrote, “I am worried about people hating Muslims…If some Muslims do bad things, that doesn’t mean all of them do.”  And she asked, “Please tell everyone that we are good people and we’re just like everyone else.”  (Applause.)  Now, those are the words — and the wisdom — of a little girl growing up here in America, just like my daughters are growing up here in America.  “We’re just like everybody else.”  And everybody needs to remember that during the course of this debate.

As we move forward with these challenges, we all have responsibilities, we all have hard work ahead of us on this issue.  We can’t paper over problems, and we’re not going to solve this if we’re always just trying to be politically correct. But we do have to remember that 11-year-old girl.  That’s our hope.  That’s our future.  That’s how we discredit violent ideologies, by making sure her voice is lifted up; making sure she’s nurtured; making sure that she’s supported — and then, recognizing there are little girls and boys like that all around the world, and us helping to address economic and political grievances that can be exploited by extremists, and empowering local communities, and us staying true to our values as a diverse and tolerant society even when we’re threatened — especially when we’re threatened.

There will be a military component to this.  There are savage cruelties going on out there that have to be stopped.  ISIL is killing Muslims at a rate that is many multiples the rate that they’re killing non-Muslims.  Everybody has a stake in stopping them, and there will be an element of us just stopping them in their tracks with force.  But to eliminate the soil out of which they grew, to make sure that we are giving a brighter future to everyone and a lasting sense of security, then we’re going to have to make it clear to all of our children — including that little girl in 5th grade — that you have a place. You have a place here in America.  You have a place in those countries where you live.  You have a future.

Ultimately, those are the antidotes to violent extremism.  And that’s work that we’re going to have to do together.  It will take time.  This is a generational challenge.  But after 238 years, it should be obvious — America has overcome much bigger challenges, and we’ll overcome the ones that we face today.  We will stay united and committed to the ideals that have shaped us for more than two centuries, including the opportunity and justice and dignity of every single human being.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
4:54 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 11, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech Requesting to Congress for Authorization of Force Against ISIS

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Request to Congress for Authorization of Force Against ISIL

Source: WH,  2-11-15

Roosevelt Room
3:37 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.  Today, as part of an international coalition of some 60 nations — including Arab countries — our men and women in uniform continue the fight against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria.
More than 2,000 coalition airstrikes have pounded these terrorists.  We’re disrupting their command and control and supply lines, making it harder for them to move.  We’re destroying their fighting positions, their tanks, their vehicles, their barracks, their training camps, and the oil and gas facilities and infrastructure that fund their operations.  We’re taking out their commanders, their fighters, and their leaders.
In Iraq, local forces have largely held the line and in some places have pushed ISIL back.  In Syria, ISIL failed in its major push to take the town of Kobani, losing countless fighters in the process — fighters who will never again threaten innocent civilians.  And we’ve seen reports of sinking morale among ISIL fighters as they realize the futility of their cause.
Now, make no mistake — this is a difficult mission, and it will remain difficult for some time.  It’s going to take time to dislodge these terrorists, especially from urban areas.  But our coalition is on the offensive, ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose.  Its barbaric murders of so many people, including American hostages, are a desperate and revolting attempt to strike fear in the hearts of people it can never possibly win over by its ideas or its ideology — because it offers nothing but misery and death and destruction.  And with vile groups like this, there is only one option:  With our allies and partners, we are going to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.
And when I announced our strategy against ISIL in September, I said that we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together.  Today, my administration submitted a draft resolution to Congress to authorize the use of force against ISIL.  I want to be very clear about what it does and what it does not do.
This resolution reflects our core objective to destroy ISIL.  It supports the comprehensive strategy that we have been pursuing with our allies and partners:  A systemic and sustained campaign of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  Support and training for local forces on the ground, including the moderate Syrian opposition.  Preventing ISIL attacks, in the region and beyond, including by foreign terrorist fighters who try to threaten our countries.  Regional and international support for an inclusive Iraqi government that unites the Iraqi people and strengthens Iraqi forces against ISIL.  Humanitarian assistance for the innocent civilians of Iraq and Syria, who are suffering so terribly under ISIL’s reign of horror.
I want to thank Vice President Biden, Secretaries Kerry and Hagel, and General Marty Dempsey for their leadership in advancing our strategy.  Even as we meet this challenge in Iraq and Syria, we all agree that one of our weapons against terrorists like ISIL — a critical part of our strategy — is the values we live here at home.  One of the best antidotes to the hateful ideologies that try to recruit and radicalize people to violent extremism is our own example as diverse and tolerant societies that welcome the contributions of all people, including people of all faiths.
The resolution we’ve submitted today does not call for the deployment of U.S. ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria.  It is not the authorization of another ground war, like Afghanistan or Iraq.  The 2,600 American troops in Iraq today largely serve on bases — and, yes, they face the risks that come with service in any dangerous environment.  But they do not have a combat mission.  They are focused on training Iraqi forces, including Kurdish forces.
As I’ve said before, I’m convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East.  That’s not in our national security interest and it’s not necessary for us to defeat ISIL.  Local forces on the ground who know their countries best are best positioned to take the ground fight to ISIL — and that’s what they’re doing.
At the same time, this resolution strikes the necessary balance by giving us the flexibility we need for unforeseen circumstances.  For example, if we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL leaders, and our partners didn’t have the capacity to get them, I would be prepared to order our Special Forces to take action, because I will not allow these terrorists to have a safe haven.  So we need flexibility, but we also have to be careful and deliberate.  And there is no heavier decision than asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives on our behalf.  As Commander in Chief, I will only send our troops into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary for our national security.
Finally, this resolution repeals the 2002 authorization of force for the invasion of Iraq and limits this new authorization to three years.  I do not believe America’s interests are served by endless war, or by remaining on a perpetual war footing.  As a nation, we need to ask the difficult and necessary questions about when, why and how we use military force.  After all, it is our troops who bear the costs of our decisions, and we owe them a clear strategy and the support they need to get the job done.  So this resolution will give our armed forces and our coalition the continuity we need for the next three years.
It is not a timetable.  It is not announcing that the mission is completed at any given period.  What it is saying is that Congress should revisit the issue at the beginning of the next President’s term.  It’s conceivable that the mission is completed earlier.  It’s conceivable that after deliberation, debate and evaluation, that there are additional tasks to be carried out in this area.  And the people’s representatives, with a new President, should be able to have that discussion.
In closing, I want to say that in crafting this resolution we have consulted with, and listened to, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  We have made a sincere effort to address difficult issues that we’ve discussed together.  In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll continue to work closely with leaders and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.  I believe this resolution can grow even stronger with the thoughtful and dignified debate that this moment demands.  I’m optimistic that it can win strong bipartisan support, and that we can show our troops and the world that Americans are united in this mission.
Today, our men and women in uniform continue the fight against ISIL, and we salute them for their courageous service.  We pray for their safety.  We stand with their families who miss them and who are sacrificing here at home.  But know this:  Our coalition is strong, our cause is just, and our mission will succeed.  And long after the terrorists we face today are destroyed and forgotten, America will continue to stand free and tall and strong.
May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.  Thank you very much, everybody.
END
3:45 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 5, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at National Prayer Breakfast

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast

Source: WH,  2-5-15

Washington Hilton
Washington, D.C.

9:13 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, good morning.  Giving all praise and honor to God.  It is wonderful to be back with you here.  I want to thank our co-chairs, Bob and Roger.  These two don’t always agree in the Senate, but in coming together and uniting us all in prayer, they embody the spirit of our gathering today.

I also want to thank everybody who helped organize this breakfast.  It’s wonderful to see so many friends and faith leaders and dignitaries.  And Michelle and I are truly honored to be joining you here today.

I want to offer a special welcome to a good friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama — who is a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion, who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.  (Applause.)  I’ve been pleased to welcome him to the White House on many occasions, and we’re grateful that he’s able to join us here today.  (Applause.)

There aren’t that many occasions that bring His Holiness under the same roof as NASCAR.  (Laughter.)  This may be the first.  (Laughter.)  But God works in mysterious ways.  (Laughter.)   And so I want to thank Darrell for that wonderful presentation.  Darrell knows that when you’re going 200 miles an hour, a little prayer cannot hurt.  (Laughter.)  I suspect that more than once, Darrell has had the same thought as many of us have in our own lives — Jesus, take the wheel.  (Laughter.) Although I hope that you kept your hands on the wheel when you were thinking that.  (Laughter.)

He and I obviously share something in having married up.  And we are so grateful to Stevie for the incredible work that they’ve done together to build a ministry where the fastest drivers can slow down a little bit, and spend some time in prayer and reflection and thanks.  And we certainly want to wish Darrell a happy birthday.  (Applause.)  Happy birthday.

I will note, though, Darrell, when you were reading that list of things folks were saying about you, I was thinking, well, you’re a piker.  I mean, that — (laughter.)  I mean, if you really want a list, come talk to me.  (Laughter.)  Because that ain’t nothing.  (Laughter.)  That’s the best they can do in NASCAR?  (Laughter.)

Slowing down and pausing for fellowship and prayer — that’s what this breakfast is about.  I think it’s fair to say Washington moves a lot slower than NASCAR.  Certainly my agenda does sometimes.  (Laughter.)  But still, it’s easier to get caught up in the rush of our lives, and in the political back-and-forth that can take over this city.  We get sidetracked with distractions, large and small.  We can’t go 10 minutes without checking our smartphones — and for my staff, that’s every 10 seconds.  And so for 63 years, this prayer tradition has brought us together, giving us the opportunity to come together in humility before the Almighty and to be reminded of what it is that we share as children of God.

And certainly for me, this is always a chance to reflect on my own faith journey.  Many times as President, I’ve been reminded of a line of prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt was fond of. She said, “Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.”  Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.  I’ve wondered at times if maybe God was answering that prayer a little too literally.  But no matter the challenge, He has been there for all of us.  He’s certainly strengthened me “with the power through his Spirit,” as I’ve sought His guidance not just in my own life but in the life of our nation.

Now, over the last few months, we’ve seen a number of challenges — certainly over the last six years.  But part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.

As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another — to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife.  We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done.  We see faith driving us to do right.

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.  We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism  — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.  In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.  And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

And, first, we should start with some basic humility.  I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.

Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.

And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends.  And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom — freedom of religion — the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.

There’s wisdom in our founders writing in those documents that help found this nation the notion of freedom of religion, because they understood the need for humility.  They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech, that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both.

But part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment.  And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — (applause) — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.  Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech.  Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they, too, are full and equal members of our countries.

So humility I think is needed.  And the second thing we need is to uphold the distinction between our faith and our governments.  Between church and between state.  The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world — far more religious than most Western developed countries.  And one of the reasons is that our founders wisely embraced the separation of church and state.  Our government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all.  And the result is a culture where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can freely and proudly worship, without fear, or coercion — so that when you listen to Darrell talk about his faith journey you know it’s real.  You know he’s not saying it because it helps him advance, or because somebody told him to.  It’s from the heart.

That’s not the case in theocracies that restrict people’s choice of faith.  It’s not the case in authoritarian governments that elevate an individual leader or a political party above the people, or in some cases, above the concept of God Himself.  So the freedom of religion is a value we will continue to protect here at home and stand up for around the world, and is one that we guard vigilantly here in the United States.

Last year, we joined together to pray for the release of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, held in North Korea for two years.  And today, we give thanks that Kenneth is finally back where he belongs — home, with his family.  (Applause.)

Last year, we prayed together for Pastor Saeed Abedini, detained in Iran since 2012.  And I was recently in Boise, Idaho, and had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Abedini’s beautiful wife and wonderful children and to convey to them that our country has not forgotten brother Saeed and that we’re doing everything we can to bring him home.  (Applause.)  And then, I received an extraordinary letter from Pastor Abedini.  And in it, he describes his captivity, and expressed his gratitude for my visit with his family, and thanked us all for standing in solidarity with him during his captivity.

And Pastor Abedini wrote, “Nothing is more valuable to the Body of Christ than to see how the Lord is in control, and moves ahead of countries and leadership through united prayer.”  And he closed his letter by describing himself as “prisoner for Christ, who is proud to be part of this great nation of the United States of America that cares for religious freedom around the world.”  (Applause.)

We’re going to keep up this work — for Pastor Abedini and all those around the world who are unjustly held or persecuted because of their faith.   And we’re grateful to our new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein — who has hit the ground running, and is heading to Iraq in a few days to help religious communities there address some of those challenges.  Where’s David?  I know he’s here somewhere.  Thank you, David, for the great work you’re doing.  (Applause.)

Humility; a suspicion of government getting between us and our faiths, or trying to dictate our faiths, or elevate one faith over another.  And, finally, let’s remember that if there is one law that we can all be most certain of that seems to bind people of all faiths, and people who are still finding their way towards faith but have a sense of ethics and morality in them — that one law, that Golden Rule that we should treat one another as we wish to be treated.  The Torah says “Love thy neighbor as yourself.”  In Islam, there is a Hadith that states: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”  The Holy Bible tells us to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Put on love.

Whatever our beliefs, whatever our traditions, we must seek to be instruments of peace, and bringing light where there is darkness, and sowing love where there is hatred.  And this is the loving message of His Holiness, Pope Francis.  And like so many people around the world, I’ve been touched by his call to relieve suffering, and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable; to walk with The Lord and ask “Who am I to judge?”  He challenges us to press on in what he calls our “march of living hope.”  And like millions of Americans, I am very much looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to the United States later this year.  (Applause.)

His Holiness expresses that basic law:  Treat thy neighbor as yourself.  The Dalai Lama — anybody who’s had an opportunity to be with him senses that same spirit.  Kent Brantly expresses that same spirit.  Kent was with Samaritan’s Purse, treating Ebola patients in Liberia, when he contracted the virus himself. And with world-class medical care and a deep reliance on faith — with God’s help, Kent survived.  (Applause.)

And then by donating his plasma, he helped others survive as well.  And he continues to advocate for a global response in West Africa, reminding us that “our efforts needs to be on loving the people there.”  And I could not have been prouder to welcome Kent and his wonderful wife Amber to the Oval Office.  We are blessed to have him here today — because he reminds us of what it means to really “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Not just words, but deeds.

Each of us has a role in fulfilling our common, greater purpose — not merely to seek high position, but to plumb greater depths so that we may find the strength to love more fully.  And this is perhaps our greatest challenge — to see our own reflection in each other; to be our brother’s keepers and sister’s keepers, and to keep faith with one another.  As children of God, let’s make that our work, together.

As children of God, let’s work to end injustice — injustice of poverty and hunger.  No one should ever suffer from such want amidst such plenty.  As children of God, let’s work to eliminate the scourge of homelessness, because, as Sister Mary says, “None of us are home until all of us are home.”  None of us are home until all of us are home.

As children of God, let’s stand up for the dignity and value of every woman, and man, and child, because we are all equal in His eyes, and work to send the scourge and the sin of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, and “set the oppressed free.”  (Applause.)

If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose.  We can never fully fathom His amazing grace.  “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love.  But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required:  To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

I pray that we will.  And as we journey together on this “march of living hope,” I pray that, in His name, we will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint, and we’ll heed those words and “put on love.”

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may He bless this precious country that we love.

Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

END
9:37 A.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 4, 2015: President Barack Obama Remarks in Meeting with DREAMers

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Meeting with DREAMers

Source: WH,  2-4-15

Oval Office

11:47 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’ve just had a chance to meet with these six wonderful young people who represent the very best that this country has to offer.  And what sets them apart is that they all came here, were brought here by their parents, and up until recently have had a very difficult situation because of their immigration status.

The stories you hear from these young people are parents who aspired for a better life for their children; these folks coming here at the age of four months, or seven months, or 9-year-olds or 10-year-olds, oftentimes not realizing that their status was any different than their classmates and their friends and their neighbors.  In some cases, they didn’t discover until they were about to go to college that there was a difference that might prevent them from giving back to their community and their country.

And because of the executive actions that we took with respect to DREAM Act kids, and because of the executive actions that I announced late last year with respect to many of their parents, what I’ve heard is life is transformed.  Young people who didn’t think it would be possible for themselves to go to college suddenly are going to college.  Young people who didn’t think that it might be possible to start a business suddenly find themselves in a position to look at starting a business.  Young people who have memories of their mothers weeping because they couldn’t go to the funeral of their parent now have seen the prospect, the hope, that their lives can stabilize and normalize in some way.

I don’t think there’s anybody in America who’s had a chance to talk to these six young people who or the young DREAMers all across the country who wouldn’t find it in their heart to say these kids are Americans just like us and they belong here and we want to do right by them.

And so often in this immigration debate it’s an abstraction and we don’t really think about the human consequences of our positions.  And part of the reason that I wanted to hear from these young people today, and part of the reason why I’ve heard from young DREAMers in the past is because it’s a constant reminder to me of why this is important.

Now, the House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would have these six young people deported.  I think that’s wrong.  And I think most Americans would think it was wrong if they had a chance to meet these young people.  And legislation is going to be going to the Senate that, again, tries to block these executive actions.  I want to be as clear as possible:  I will veto any legislation that got to my desk that took away the chance of these young people who grew up here and who are prepared to contribute to this country that would prevent them from doing so.  And I am confident that I can uphold that veto.

So as we move forward in this debate over the next several months, the next year, the next year and a half, I would call on members of Congress to think about all the talent that is already in this country, that is already working in many cases, is already making contributions — in some cases, are joining up in our military, or are already starting businesses, are already attending school — and let’s be true to our tradition as a nation of immigrants and as a nation of laws.

My strong preference is going to be to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  And I know that there are Republicans out there who want to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  In the Senate, they’ve shown that they are prepared to do the right thing.  And rather than continue trying to go back to a system that everybody acknowledges was broken, let’s move forward with the incredible promise that these young people represent.

The last point I’ll make:  There have been suggestions that we will not fund the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for patrolling our borders, as well as keeping our air travel safe, as well as patrolling our coasts — there’s been talk about not funding that department because of the disagreement around immigration reform.  There’s no logic to that position.  Particularly for Republicans who claim that they are interested in strong border security, why would you cut off your nose to spite your face by defunding the very operations that are involved in making sure that we’ve got strong border security, particularly at a time when we’ve got real concerns about countering terrorism?

So my strong suggestion would be that Congress go ahead, fund the Department of Homeland Security.  We’re doing a tremendous amount of work at the borders.  The concerns that people had about unaccompanied children tragically traveling from Central America, that spike has now diminished.  We are below the levels that we were two years ago.  We are working diligently with the Central American countries to make sure that young people there have hope and that their parents are getting a clear message of not sending them on this extraordinarily dangerous journey.

Let’s make sure the Department of Homeland Security is properly funded, we’re doing the right things at the borders, we’re doing the right things with respect to our airports.  And then let’s get back to first principles; and remind ourselves that each of these young people here are going to be doing incredible things on behalf of this country.

And to all the DREAMers who are out there and all those who qualify for my executive action moving forward, I want you to know that I am confident in my ability to implement this program over the next two years, and I’m confident that the next President and the next Congress and the American people will ultimately recognize why this is the right thing to do.  So I’m going to want all of you to get information so you can sign up if you qualify as well.  All right?

Thank you very much, everybody.  And thank you, guys, for sharing your incredible stories.

END
11:56 A.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 2, 2015: President Barack Obama’s 2016 Budget – PDF

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama’s 2016 Budget

Source: WH, 2-2-15

Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2016 contains the Budget Message of the President, information on the President’s priorities, budget overviews organized by agency, and summary tables.

To download “Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2016″ as a single PDF click here (150 pages, 2.3 MB)

Document

Size

File Format

Descriptions of The Budget Documents and General Notes 75 K PDF
The Budget Message of the President 44 K PDF
Building on a Record of Economic Growth and Progress 110 K PDF
Investing in America’s Future 396 K PDF
A Government of the Future 130 K PDF
Cuts, Consolidations, and Savings 132 K PDF
Summary Tables 1366 K PDF

 

Full Text Obama Presidency February 2, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech Unveiling the FY2016 Budget

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the FY2016 Budget

Source: WH, 2-2-15

Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C.

11:27 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  Please, have a seat.  Well, good morning, everybody.   It is good to be here at the Department of Homeland Security.  And let me thank Jeh Johnson not only for the outstanding job that’s he’s doing as Secretary of DHS, but also for a short introduction.  I like short introductions.  (Laughter.)  Give him a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

This is a great way to start the week, because I get to do something I enjoy doing, which is saying thank you.  Nobody works harder to keep America safe than the people who are gathered here today.  And you don’t get a lot of attention for it — that’s the nature of the job.  But I know how vital you are, and I want to make that sure more Americans know how vital you are.  Because against just about every threat that we face — from terrorist networks to microscopic viruses to cyber-attacks to weather disasters — you guys are there.  You protect us from threats at home and abroad, by air and land and sea.  You safeguard our ports, you patrol our borders.  You inspect our chemical plants, screen travelers for Ebola, shield our computer networks, and help hunt down criminals around the world.  You have a busy agenda, a full plate.  And here at home, you are ready to respond to any emergency at a moment’s notice.

It is simply extraordinary how much the Department of Homeland Security does every single day to keep our nation, our people safe.  It’s a critical job, and you get it done without a lot of fanfare.  And I want to make sure that you have what you need to keep getting the job done.  Every American has an interest in making sure that the Department of Homeland Security has what it needs to achieve its mission — because we are reliant on that mission every single day.

Now, today, I’m sending Congress a budget that will make sure you’ve got what you need to achieve your mission.  It gives you the resources you need to carry out your mission in a way that is smart and strategic, and makes the most of every dollar.  It’s also a broader blueprint for America’s success in this new global economy.  Because after a breakthrough year for America — at a time when our economy is growing and our businesses are creating jobs at the fastest pace since the 1990s, and wages are starting to rise again — we’ve got some fundamental choices to make about the kind of country we want to be.

Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?  Or are we going to build an economy where everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead?

And that was the focus of my State of the Union Address a couple weeks ago — what I called middle-class economics.  The idea that this country does best when everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules.

The budget that Congress now has in its hands is built on those values.  It helps working families’ paychecks go farther by treating things like paid sick leave and childcare as the economic priorities that they are.  It gives Americans of every age the chance to upgrade their skills so they can earn higher wages, and it includes my plan to make two years of community college free for responsible students.  It lets us keep building the world’s most attractive economy for high-wage jobs, with new investments in research, and infrastructure and manufacturing, as well as expanded access to faster Internet and new markets for goods made in America.

It’s also a budget that recognizes that our economy flourishes when America is safe and secure.  So it invests in our IT networks, to protect them from malicious actors.  It supports our troops and strengthens our border security.  And it gives us the resources to confront global challenges, from ISIL to Russian aggression.

Now, since I took office, we have cut our deficits by about two-thirds.  I’m going to repeat that, as I always do when I mention this fact, because the public oftentimes, if you ask them, thinks that the deficit has shot up.  Since I took office, we have cut our deficits by about two-thirds.  That’s the fastest period of sustained deficit reduction since after the demobilization at the end of World War II.  So we can afford to make these investments while remaining fiscally responsible.  And, in fact, we cannot afford — we would be making a critical error if we avoided making these investments.  We can’t afford not to.  When the economy is doing well, we’re making investments when we’re growing.  That’s part of what keeps deficits low — because the economy is doing well.  So we’ve just got to be smarter about how we pay for our priorities, and that’s what my budget does.

At the end of 2013, I signed a bipartisan budget agreement that helped us end some of the arbitrary cuts known in Washington-speak as “sequestration.”  And folks here at DHS know a little too much about sequestration — (laughter) — because many of you have to deal with those cuts, and it made it a lot harder for you to do your jobs.

The 2013 agreement to reverse some of those cuts helped to boost our economic growth.  Part of the reason why we grew faster last year was we were no longer being burdened by mindless across-the-board cuts, and we were being more strategic about how we handled our federal budget.  And now we need to take the next step.  So my budget will end sequestration and fully reverse the cuts to domestic priorities in 2016.  And it will match the investments that were made domestically, dollar for dollar, with increases in our defense funding.

And just last week, top military officials told Congress that if Congress does nothing to stop sequestration, there could be serious consequences for our national security, at a time when our military is stretched on a whole range of issues.  And that’s why I want to work with Congress to replace mindless austerity with smart investments that strengthen America.  And we can do so in a way that is fiscally responsible.

I’m not going to accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward.  It would be bad for our security and bad for our growth.  I will not accept a budget that severs the vital link between our national security and our economic security.  I know there’s some on Capitol Hill who would say, well, we’d be willing to increase defense spending but we’re not going to increase investments in infrastructure, for example, or basic research.  Well, those two things go hand in hand.  If we don’t have a vital infrastructure, if we don’t have broadband lines across the country, if we don’t have a smart grid, all that makes us more vulnerable.  America can’t afford being shortsighted, and I’m not going to allow it.

The budget I’ve sent to Congress today is fully paid for, through a combination of smart spending cuts and tax reforms.  Let me give you an example.  Right now, our tax code is full of loopholes for special interests — like the trust fund loophole that allows the wealthiest Americans to avoid paying taxes on their unearned income.  I think we should fix that and use the savings to cut taxes for middle-class families.  That would be good for our economy.

Now, I know there are Republicans who disagree with my approach.  And I’ve said this before:  If they have other ideas for how we can keep America safe, grow our economy, while helping middle-class families feel some sense of economic security, I welcome their ideas.  But their numbers have to add up.  And what we can’t do is play politics with folks’ economic security, or with our national security.  You, better than anybody, know what the stakes are.  The work you do hangs in the balance.

In just a few weeks from now, funding for Homeland Security will run out.  That’s not because of anything this department did, it’s because the Republicans in Congress who funded everything in government through September, except for this department.  And they’re now threatening to let Homeland Security funding expire because of their disagreeing with my actions to make our immigration system smarter, fairer and safer.

Now let’s be clear, I think we can have a reasonable debate about immigration.  I’m confident that what we’re doing is the right thing and the lawful thing.  I understand they may have some disagreements with me on that, although I should note that a large majority — or a large percentage of Republicans agree that we need comprehensive immigration reform, and we’re prepared to act in the Senate and should have acted in the House.  But if they don’t agree with me, that’s fine, that’s how our democracy works.  You may have noticed they usually don’t agree with me.  But don’t jeopardize our national security over this disagreement.

As one Republican put it, if they let your funding run out, “it’s not the end of the world.”  That’s what they said.  Well, I guess literally that’s true; it may not be the end of the world.  But until they pass a funding bill, it is the end of a paycheck for tens of thousands of frontline workers who will continue to get — to have to work without getting paid.  Over 40,000 Border Patrol and Customs agents.  Over 50,000 airport screeners.  Over 13,000 immigration officers.  Over 40,000 men and women in the Coast Guard.  These Americans aren’t just working to keep us safe, they have to take care of their own families.  The notion that they would get caught up in a disagreement around policy that has nothing to do with them makes no sense.

And if Republicans let Homeland Security funding expire, it’s the end to any new initiatives in the event that a new threat emerges.  It’s the end of grants to states and cities that improve local law enforcement and keep our communities safe.  The men and women of America’s homeland security apparatus do important work to protect us, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress should not be playing politics with that.

We need to fund the department, pure and simple.  We’ve got to put politics aside, pass a budget that funds our national security priorities at home and abroad, and gives middle-class families the security they need to get ahead in the new economy.  This is one of our most basic and most important responsibilities as a government.  So I’m calling on Congress to get this done.

Every day, we count on people like you to keep America secure.  And you are counting on us as well to uphold our end of the bargain.  You’re counting on us to make sure that you’ve got the resources to do your jobs safely and efficiently, and that you’re able to look after your families while you are out there working really hard to keep us safe.

We ask a lot of you.  The least we can do is have your backs.  That’s what I’m going to keep on doing for as long as I have the honor of serving as your President.  I have your back.  And I’m going to keep on fighting to make sure that you get the resources you deserve.  I’m going to keep fighting to make sure that every American has the chance not just to share in America’s success but to contribute to America’s success.  That’s what this budget is about.

It reflects our values in making sure that we are making the investments we need to keep America safe, to keep America growing, and to make sure that everybody is participating no matter what they look like, where they come from, no matter how they started in life, they’ve got a chance to get ahead in this great country of ours.  That’s what I believe.  That’s what you believe.  (Applause.)  Let’s get it done.

Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:43 A.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts January 30, 2015: Mitt Romney’s Statement Announcing He is Not Running for President in the 2016 Presidential Campaign

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

The Romney Statement: Not Running. “I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee.”

Source: Hugh Hewitt, Jan. 30, 2015

Let me begin by letting you know who else is on this call, besides Ann and me. There are a large number of people who signed on to be leaders of our 2016 finance effort. In addition, state political leadership from several of the early primary states are on the line. And here in New York City, and on the phone, are people who have been helping me think through how to build a new team, as well as supporters from the past who have all been kind enough to volunteer their time during this deliberation stage. Welcome, and thank you. Your loyalty and friendship, and your desire to see the country with new, competent and conservative leadership warms my heart.

After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee.

Let me give you some of my thinking. First, I am convinced that with the help of the people on this call, we could win the nomination. Our finance calls made it clear that we would have enough funding to be more than competitive. With few exceptions, our field political leadership is ready and enthusiastic about a new race. And the reaction of Republican voters across the country was both surprising and heartening. I know that early poll numbers move up and down a great deal during a campaign, but we would have no doubt started in a strong position. One poll out just today shows me gaining support and leading the next closest contender by nearly two to one. I also am leading in all of the four early states. So I am convinced that we could win the nomination, but fully realize it would have been difficult test and a hard fight.

I also believe with the message of making the world safer, providing opportunity to every American regardless of the neighborhood they live in, and working to break the grip of poverty, I would have the best chance of beating the eventual Democrat nominee, but that is before the other contenders have had the opportunity to take their message to the voters.
I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.

I feel that it is critical that America elect a conservative leader to become our next president. You know that I have wanted to be that president. But I do not want to make it more difficult for someone else to emerge who may have a better chance of becoming that president. You can’t imagine how hard it is for Ann and me to step aside, especially knowing of your support and the support of so many people across the country. But we believe it is for the best of the Party and the nation.

I’ve been asked, and will certainly be asked again if there are any circumstances whatsoever that might develop that could change my mind. That seems unlikely. Accordingly, I’m not organizing a PAC or taking donations; I’m not hiring a campaign team.

I encourage all of you on this call to stay engaged in the critical process of selecting a Republican nominee for President. Please feel free to sign up on a campaign for a person who you believe may become our best nominee.

I believe a Republican winning back the White House is essential for our country, and I will do whatever I can to make that happen.

To all my supporters, friends and family who worked both tirelessly and loyally to support my campaigns in the past, I will always be deeply appreciative. What you have already done is a tribute to your patriotism. We are overwhelmed and humbled by your loyalty to us, by your generosity of spirit, and by your friendship. God bless you all.

Political Musings January 21, 2015: Obama defiant in least viewed State of the Union Address in recent history

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Obama defiant in least viewed State of the Union Address in recent history

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The state of the State of the Union Address is not good; President Obama delivered the address to the smallest audience of viewers in recent history. Only 31.7 million Americans viewed the address on television; the State of…READ MORE

Full Text Political Transcripts January 20, 2015: Iowa Senator Joni Ernst Delivers Official GOP Republican State of the Union Response

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

GOP Responds to Obama’s State of the Union Address: Full Text

“Good evening.

“I’m Joni Ernst. As a mother, a soldier, and a newly elected senator from the great State of Iowa, I am proud to speak with you tonight.

“A few moments ago, we heard the President lay out his vision for the year to come. Even if we may not always agree, it’s important to hear different points of view in this great country. We appreciate the President sharing his.

“Tonight though, rather than respond to a speech, I’d like to talk about your priorities. I’d like to have a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected, and how we plan to make Washington focus on your concerns again.

“We heard the message you sent in November — loud and clear. And now we’re getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.

“The new Republican Congress also understands how difficult these past six years have been. For many of us, the sting of the economy and the frustration with Washington’s dysfunction weren’t things we had to read about. We felt them every day.

“We felt them in Red Oak — the little town in southwestern Iowa where I grew up, and am still proud to call home today.

“As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees.

“We were raised to live simply, not to waste. It was a lesson my mother taught me every rainy morning.
“You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry.

“But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet.

“Our parents may not have had much, but they worked hard for what they did have.

“These days though, many families feel like they’re working harder and harder, with less and less to show for it.

“Not just in Red Oak, but across the country.

“We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs. We see the hurt caused by canceled healthcare plans and higher monthly insurance bills. We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they’ll be able to leave to their children.

“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare. It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.

“That’s why the new Republican majority you elected started by reforming Congress to make it function again. And now, we’re working hard to pass the kind of serious job-creation ideas you deserve.

“One you’ve probably heard about is the Keystone jobs bill. President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it. The President’s own State Department has said Keystone’s construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact.

“We worked with Democrats to pass this bill through the House. We’re doing the same now in the Senate.

“President Obama will soon have a decision to make: will he sign the bill, or block good American jobs?

“There’s a lot we can achieve if we work together.

“Let’s tear down trade barriers in places like Europe and the Pacific. Let’s sell more of what we make and grow in America over there so we can boost manufacturing, wages, and jobs right here, at home.

“Let’s simplify America’s outdated and loophole-ridden tax code. Republicans think tax filing should be easier for you, not just the well-connected. So let’s iron out loopholes to lower rates — and create jobs, not pay for more government spending.

“The President has already expressed some support for these kinds of ideas. We’re calling on him now to cooperate to pass them.

“You’ll see a lot of serious work in this new Congress.

“Some of it will occur where I stand tonight, in the Armed Services Committee room. This is where I’ll join committee colleagues — Republicans and Democrats — to discuss ways to support our exceptional military and its mission. This is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL, and those radicalized by them.

“We know threats like these can’t just be wished away. We’ve been reminded of terrorism’s reach both at home and abroad; most recently in France and Nigeria, but also in places like Canada and Australia. Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims of terrorism and their loved ones. We can only imagine the depth of their grief.

“For two decades, I’ve proudly worn our nation’s uniform: today, as a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. While deployed overseas with some of America’s finest men and women, I’ve seen just how dangerous these kinds of threats can be.

“The forces of violence and oppression don’t care about the innocent. We need a comprehensive plan to defeat them.

“We must also honor America’s veterans. These men and women have sacrificed so much in defense of our freedoms, and our way of life. They deserve nothing less than the benefits they were promised and a quality of care we can be all be proud of.

“These are important issues the new Congress plans to address.

“We’ll also keep fighting to repeal and replace a health care law that’s hurt so many hardworking families.

“We’ll work to correct executive overreach.

“We’ll propose ideas that aim to cut wasteful spending and balance the budget — with meaningful reforms, not higher taxes like the President has proposed.

“We’ll advance solutions to prevent the kind of cyberattacks we’ve seen recently.

“We’ll work to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“And we’ll defend life, because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society.

“Congress is back to work on your behalf, ready to make Washington focus on your concerns again.

“We know America faces big challenges. But history has shown there’s nothing our nation, and our people, can’t accomplish.

“Just look at my parents and grandparents.

“They had very little to call their own except the sweat on their brow and the dirt on their hands. But they worked, they sacrificed, and they dreamed big dreams for their children and grandchildren.

“And because they did, an ordinary Iowan like me has had some truly extraordinary opportunities — because they showed me that you don’t need to come from wealth or privilege to make a difference. You just need the freedom to dream big, and a whole lot of hard work.

“The new Republican Congress you elected is working to make Washington understand that too. And with a little cooperation from the President, we can get Washington working again.

“Thank you for allowing me to speak with you tonight.

“May God bless this great country of ours, the brave Americans serving in uniform on our behalf, and you, the hardworking men and women who make the United States of America the greatest nation the world has ever known.”

Read On ABC News Radio: http://abcnewsradioonline.com/politics-news/gop-responds-to-obamas-state-of-the-union-address-full-text-1.html#ixzz3PW3xtGoc

Full Text Obama Presidency January 20, 2015: President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery State of the Union Address

Source: WH, 1-20-15

The White House is making the full text of the State of the Union widely available on its Medium page. The text, as prepared for delivery, is now online HERE, along with tools that allow people to follow along with the speech as they watch in real time, to view charts and infographics on key areas, to tweet their favorite lines, and to leave notes to provide feedback.

The full text of the State of the Union Address, as prepared for delivery, is posted now on Medium and can be viewed here: http://go.wh.gov/SOTUMedium

There is a ritual on State of the Union night in Washington. A little before the address, the White House sends out an embargoed copy of the President’s speech to the press (embargoed means that the press can see the speech, but they can’t report on it until a designated time). The reporters then start sending it around town to folks on Capitol Hill to get their reaction, then those people send it to all their friends, and eventually everyone in Washington can read along, but the public remains in the dark.

This year we change that.

For the first time, the White House is making the full text of the speech available to citizens around the country online. On Medium, you can follow along with the speech as you watch in real time, view charts and infographics on key areas, tweet favorite lines, and leave notes. By making the text available to the public in advance, the White House is continuing efforts to reach a wide online audience and give people a range of ways to consume the speech.


Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

We are fifteen years into this new century.  Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world.  It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.

But tonight, we turn the page.

Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.  Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis.  More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.  Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, fewer than 15,000 remain.  And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe.  We are humbled and grateful for your service.

America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:

The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.

At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.  It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.

Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?  Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?

Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing?  Or will we lead wisely, using all elements of our power to defeat new threats and protect our planet?

Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another – or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America forward?

In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan.  And in the months ahead, I’ll crisscross the country making a case for those ideas.

So tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals, and focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us.

It begins with our economy.

Seven years ago, Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis were newlyweds.  She waited tables.  He worked construction.  Their first child, Jack, was on the way.

They were young and in love in America, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

“If only we had known,” Rebekah wrote to me last spring, “what was about to happen to the housing and construction market.”

As the crisis worsened, Ben’s business dried up, so he took what jobs he could find, even if they kept him on the road for long stretches of time.  Rebekah took out student loans, enrolled in community college, and retrained for a new career.  They sacrificed for each other.  And slowly, it paid off.  They bought their first home.  They had a second son, Henry.  Rebekah got a better job, and then a raise.  Ben is back in construction – and home for dinner every night.

“It is amazing,” Rebekah wrote, “what you can bounce back from when you have to…we are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”

We are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.

America, Rebekah and Ben’s story is our story.  They represent the millions who have worked hard, and scrimped, and sacrificed, and retooled.  You are the reason I ran for this office.  You’re the people I was thinking of six years ago today, in the darkest months of the crisis, when I stood on the steps of this Capitol and promised we would rebuild our economy on a new foundation.  And it’s been your effort and resilience that has made it possible for our country to emerge stronger.

We believed we could reverse the tide of outsourcing, and draw new jobs to our shores.  And over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs.

We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet.  And today, America is number one in oil and gas.  America is number one in wind power.  Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008.  And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.

We believed we could prepare our kids for a more competitive world.  And today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record.  Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high.  And more Americans finish college than ever before.

We believed that sensible regulations could prevent another crisis, shield families from ruin, and encourage fair competition.  Today, we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts, and a new consumer watchdog to protect us from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices.  And in the past year alone, about ten million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage.

At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits.  Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years.

So the verdict is clear.  Middle-class economics works.  Expanding opportunity works.  And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.  We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns.  We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix.  And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.

Today, thanks to a growing economy, the recovery is touching more and more lives.  Wages are finally starting to rise again.  We know that more small business owners plan to raise their employees’ pay than at any time since 2007.  But here’s the thing – those of us here tonight, we need to set our sights higher than just making sure government doesn’t halt the progress we’re making.  We need to do more than just do no harm.  Tonight, together, let’s do more to restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American.

Because families like Rebekah’s still need our help.  She and Ben are working as hard as ever, but have to forego vacations and a new car so they can pay off student loans and save for retirement.  Basic childcare for Jack and Henry costs more than their mortgage, and almost as much as a year at the University of Minnesota.  Like millions of hardworking Americans, Rebekah isn’t asking for a handout, but she is asking that we look for more ways to help families get ahead.

In fact, at every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot.  We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity.  We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the internet – tools they needed to go as far as their effort will take them.

That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.  We don’t just want everyone to share in America’s success – we want everyone to contribute to our success.

So what does middle-class economics require in our time?

First – middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.  That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement – and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.

Here’s one example.  During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority – so this country provided universal childcare.  In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever.  It’s not a nice-to-have – it’s a must-have.  It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.  And that’s why my plan will make quality childcare more available, and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America – by creating more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year.

Here’s another example.  Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.  Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave.  Forty-three million.  Think about that.  And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home.  So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own.  And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let’s put it to a vote right here in Washington.  Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.  It’s the right thing to do.

Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages.  That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.  Really.  It’s 2015.  It’s time.  We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned.  And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this:  If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it.  If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.

These ideas won’t make everybody rich, or relieve every hardship.  That’s not the job of government.  To give working families a fair shot, we’ll still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their workforce is in their company’s long-term interest.  We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice.  But things like child care and sick leave and equal pay; things like lower mortgage premiums and a higher minimum wage – these ideas will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of families.  That is a fact.  And that’s what all of us – Republicans and Democrats alike – were sent here to do.

Second, to make sure folks keep earning higher wages down the road, we have to do more to help Americans upgrade their skills.

America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world.  But in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to do more.

By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education.  Two in three.  And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need.  It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future.

That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero.

Forty percent of our college students choose community college.  Some are young and starting out.  Some are older and looking for a better job.  Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market.  Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt.  Understand, you’ve got to earn it – you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time.  Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible.  I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.  And I want to work with this Congress, to make sure Americans already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams.

Thanks to Vice President Biden’s great work to update our job training system, we’re connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics.  Tonight, I’m also asking more businesses to follow the lead of companies like CVS and UPS, and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships – opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.

And as a new generation of veterans comes home, we owe them every opportunity to live the American Dream they helped defend.  Already, we’ve made strides towards ensuring that every veteran has access to the highest quality care.  We’re slashing the backlog that had too many veterans waiting years to get the benefits they need, and we’re making it easier for vets to translate their training and experience into civilian jobs.  Joining Forces, the national campaign launched by Michelle and Jill Biden, has helped nearly 700,000 veterans and military spouses get new jobs.  So to every CEO in America, let me repeat:  If you want somebody who’s going to get the job done, hire a veteran.

Finally, as we better train our workers, we need the new economy to keep churning out high-wage jobs for our workers to fill.

Since 2010, America has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and all advanced economies combined.  Our manufacturers have added almost 800,000 new jobs.  Some of our bedrock sectors, like our auto industry, are booming.  But there are also millions of Americans who work in jobs that didn’t even exist ten or twenty years ago – jobs at companies like Google, and eBay, and Tesla.

So no one knows for certain which industries will generate the jobs of the future.  But we do know we want them here in America.  That’s why the third part of middle-class economics is about building the most competitive economy anywhere, the place where businesses want to locate and hire.

21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure – modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet.  Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this.  So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.  Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.

21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas.  Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages.  But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region.  That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage.  Why would we let that happen?  We should write those rules.  We should level the playing field.  That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.

Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense.  But ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities.  More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China.  Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.

21st century businesses will rely on American science, technology, research and development.  I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine – one that delivers the right treatment at the right time.  In some patients with cystic fibrosis, this approach has reversed a disease once thought unstoppable.  Tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes – and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.

I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.

I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs – converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kid; pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay.  Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars.  In two months, to prepare us for those missions, Scott Kelly will begin a year-long stay in space.  Good luck, Captain – and make sure to Instagram it.

Now, the truth is, when it comes to issues like infrastructure and basic research, I know there’s bipartisan support in this chamber.  Members of both parties have told me so.  Where we too often run onto the rocks is how to pay for these investments.  As Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes, as long as everybody else does, too.  But for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight.  They’ve riddled it with giveaways the superrich don’t need, denying a break to middle class families who do.

This year, we have an opportunity to change that.  Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America.  Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home.  Let’s simplify the system and let a small business owner file based on her actual bank statement, instead of the number of accountants she can afford.  And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth.  We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college.  We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.

Helping hardworking families make ends meet. Giving them the tools they need for good-paying jobs in this new economy.  Maintaining the conditions for growth and competitiveness.  This is where America needs to go.  I believe it’s where the American people want to go.  It will make our economy stronger a year from now, fifteen years from now, and deep into the century ahead.

Of course, if there’s one thing this new century has taught us, it’s that we cannot separate our work at home from challenges beyond our shores.

My first duty as Commander-in-Chief is to defend the United States of America.  In doing so, the question is not whether America leads in the world, but how.  When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military – then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world.  That’s what our enemies want us to do.

I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership.  We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.  That’s exactly what we’re doing right now – and around the globe, it is making a difference.

First, we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists – from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.  We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.

At the same time, we’ve learned some costly lessons over the last thirteen years.

Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan, we’ve trained their security forces, who’ve now taken the lead, and we’ve honored our troops’ sacrifice by supporting that country’s first democratic transition.  Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.  In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance.  Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.  We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.  This effort will take time.  It will require focus.  But we will succeed.  And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.

Second, we are demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy.  We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small – by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies.  Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength.  Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.

That’s how America leads – not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.

In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.  When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.  Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.  And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo.  As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of “small steps.”  These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba.  And after years in prison, we’re overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs.  Welcome home, Alan.

Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.  Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies – including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.  There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.  But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails – alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.  It doesn’t make sense.  That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.  The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.

Third, we’re looking beyond the issues that have consumed us in the past to shape the coming century.

No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.  We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism.  And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information.  If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable.  If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.

In West Africa, our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola – saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease.  I couldn’t be prouder of them, and I thank this Congress for your bipartisan support of their efforts.  But the job is not yet done – and the world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development, and eradicate extreme poverty.

In the Asia Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules – in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, and how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief.  And no challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does – 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act.  Well, I’m not a scientist, either.  But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities.  The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.  The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  We should act like it.

That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it.  That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history.  And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts.  I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action.  In Beijing, we made an historic announcement – the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions.  And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.

There’s one last pillar to our leadership – and that’s the example of our values.

As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained.  It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.  It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims – the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace.  That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.  We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.

As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice – so it makes no sense to spend three million dollars per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit.  Since I’ve been President, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of GTMO in half.  Now it’s time to finish the job.  And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down.  It’s not who we are.

As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties – and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks.  So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven’t.  As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse.  And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.

Looking to the future instead of the past.  Making sure we match our power with diplomacy, and use force wisely.  Building coalitions to meet new challenges and opportunities.  Leading – always – with the example of our values.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  That’s what keeps us strong.  And that’s why we must keep striving to hold ourselves to the highest of standards – our own.

You know, just over a decade ago, I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn’t a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America – but a United States of America.  I said this because I had seen it in my own life, in a nation that gave someone like me a chance; because I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of races and customs; because I made Illinois my home – a state of small towns, rich farmland, and one of the world’s great cities; a microcosm of the country where Democrats and Republicans and Independents, good people of every ethnicity and every faith, share certain bedrock values.

Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn’t delivered on this vision.  How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever.  It’s held up as proof not just of my own flaws – of which there are many – but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve, and that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it.

I know how tempting such cynicism may be.  But I still think the cynics are wrong.

I still believe that we are one people.  I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.  I believe this because over and over in my six years in office, I have seen America at its best.  I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates from New York to California; and our newest officers at West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs, and New London.  I’ve mourned with grieving families in Tucson and Newtown; in Boston, West, Texas, and West Virginia.  I’ve watched Americans beat back adversity from the Gulf Coast to the Great Plains; from Midwest assembly lines to the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.  I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in ten Americans call home.

So I know the good, and optimistic, and big-hearted generosity of the American people who, every day, live the idea that we are our brother’s keeper, and our sister’s keeper.  And I know they expect those of us who serve here to set a better example.

So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America’s hopes.  I’ve served in Congress with many of you.  I know many of you well.  There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle.  And many of you have told me that this isn’t what you signed up for – arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision.

Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns.  Imagine if we did something different.

Understand – a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.

A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.

A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.

A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.

If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments – but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.

We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.

Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is taken from her child, and that it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.

We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York.  But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.  Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.  Surely we can agree it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.

That’s a better politics.  That’s how we start rebuilding trust.  That’s how we move this country forward.  That’s what the American people want.  That’s what they deserve.

I have no more campaigns to run.  My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol – to do what I believe is best for America.  If you share the broad vision I outlined tonight, join me in the work at hand.  If you disagree with parts of it, I hope you’ll at least work with me where you do agree.  And I commit to every Republican here tonight that I will not only seek out your ideas, I will seek to work with you to make this country stronger.

Because I want this chamber, this city, to reflect the truth – that for all our blind spots and shortcomings, we are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to unite in common effort, and help our neighbors, whether down the street or on the other side of the world.

I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood:  your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids.

I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we are a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen – man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian, immigrant and Native American, gay and straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability.

I want them to grow up in a country that shows the world what we still know to be true:  that we are still more than a collection of red states and blue states; that we are the United States of America.

I want them to grow up in a country where a young mom like Rebekah can sit down and write a letter to her President with a story to sum up these past six years:

“It is amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to…we are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”

My fellow Americans, we too are a strong, tight-knit family.  We, too, have made it through some hard times.  Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America.  We’ve laid a new foundation.  A brighter future is ours to write.  Let’s begin this new chapter – together – and let’s start the work right now.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love.

Full Text Obama Presidency December 25, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Happy Holidays from the President and First Lady Michelle Obama — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: Happy Holidays from the President and First Lady

Source: WH, 12-25-14

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 25, 2014

THE PRESIDENT: Merry Christmas everybody!  Now, we’re not going to take much of your time because today is about family and being together with the ones you love.  And luckily for me, that means I get a little help on the weekly address, too.

THE FIRST LADY:  The holidays at the White House are such a wonderful time of year.

We fill the halls with decorations, Christmas trees, and carolers – and this year, we invited more than 65,000 people to join us.

Our theme was “A Children’s Winter Wonderland” – and Americans young and old had a chance to come together and celebrate the season.

THE PRESIDENT: And today, our family will join millions across the country in celebrating the birth of Jesus – the birth not just of a baby in a manger, but of a message that has changed the world: to reach out to the sick; the hungry; the troubled; and above all else, to love one another as we would be loved ourselves.

THE FIRST LADY: We hope that this holiday season will be a chance for us to live out that message—to bridge our differences and lift up our families, friends, and neighbors… and to reconnect with the values that bind us together.

And as a country, that also means celebrating and honoring those who have served and sacrificed for all of us—our troops, veterans, and their families.

THE PRESIDENT: In just a few days, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.  Our longest war will come to a responsible end.  And that gives us an opportunity to step back and reflect upon all that these families have given us.  We’re able to gather with family and friends because our troops are willing to hug theirs goodbye and step forward to serve.  After a long day, we can come home because they’re willing to leave their families and deploy.  We can celebrate the holidays because they’re willing to miss their own.

THE FIRST LADY: And so, as our troops continue to transition back home—back to our businesses, our schools, our congregations, and our communities—it’s up to all of us to serve them as well as they have served us.

You can visit JoiningForces.gov to find out how you can honor and support the troops, veterans, and military families in your communities.

That’s something we can do not only during the holiday season, but all year round.

THE PRESIDENT: So Merry Christmas, everybody.  May God bless you all.  And we wish you and your family a happy and healthy 2015.

Political Musings December 20, 2014: Boehner invites Obama to deliver 2015 State of the Union on January 20

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Boehner invites Obama to deliver 2015 State of the Union on January 20

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Just days before Congress and President Barack Obama officially go on vacation on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014 Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, R-OH sent Obama an official invitation to deliver the 2015 State of the Union…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 20, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address America’s Resurgence Is Real

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: America’s Resurgence Is Real

Source: WH, 12-20-14

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 20, 2014

Hi, everybody.  As 2014 comes to an end, we can enter the New Year with new confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.

The steps we took nearly six years ago to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  Over the past 57 months, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.

Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth since the ‘90s.  America is now the number one producer of oil and gas, saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  The auto industry we rescued is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance in the past year alone.  And since I took office, we have cut our deficits by about two-thirds.

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  We’re leading the global fight to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  We’re leading global efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China.  We’re turning a new page in our relationship with the Cuban people.

And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over, and our war there will come to a responsible end.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than at any time in over a decade.  Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend this Christmas in harm’s way.  And as Commander-in-Chief, I want our troops to know:  your country is united in our support and gratitude for you and your families.

The six years since the financial crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everyone’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve got to show for it.  More jobs.  More insured.  A growing economy.  Shrinking deficits.  Bustling industry.  Booming energy.

Pick any metric you want – America’s resurgence is real.  And we now have the chance to reverse the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes.  We just have to invest in the things that we know will secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  We have to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not only for a few, but for all of us.  And I look forward to working together with the new Congress next year on these priorities.

Sure, we’ll disagree on some things.  We’ll have to compromise on others.  I’ll act on my own when it’s necessary.  But I will never stop trying to make life better for people like you.

Because thanks to your efforts, a new foundation is laid.  A new future is ready to be written.  We have set the stage for a new American moment, and I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure we seize it.

On behalf of the Obama family, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.

Thanks, and have a wonderful holiday season.

Full Text Obama Presidency December 19, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at his Year-End Press ConferenceFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

Source: WH, 12-19-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  We’ve really got a full house today, huh?  Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions.  (Laughter.)  But first let me say a little bit about this year.

In last year’s final press conference, I said that 2014 would be a year of action and would be a breakthrough year for America.  And it has been.  Yes, there were crises that we had to tackle around the world, many that were unanticipated.  We have more work to do to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not just for the few, but for the many.  But there is no doubt that we can enter into the New Year with renewed confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.

The steps that we took early on to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  All told, over a 57-month streak, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  Almost all the job growth that we’ve seen have been in full-time positions.  Much of the recent pickup in job growth has been in higher-paying industries.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.

Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth also since the 1990s.  America is now the number-one producer of oil, the number-one producer of natural gas.  We’re saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  And effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over.  We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed, and the American auto industry is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  And we’ve created about half a million new jobs in the auto industry alone.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance just this past year.  Enrollment is beginning to pick up again during the open enrollment period.  The uninsured rate is at a near record low.  Since the law passed, the price of health care has risen at its slowest rate in about 50 years.  And we’ve cut our deficits by about two-thirds since I took office, bringing them to below their 40-year average.

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL — a coalition that includes Arab partners.  We’re leading the international community to check Russian aggression in Ukraine. We are leading the global fight to combat Ebola in West Africa, and we are preventing an outbreak from taking place here at home. We’re leading efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China that’s already jumpstarting new progress in other countries.  We’re writing a new chapter in our leadership here in the Americas by turning a new page on our relationship with the Cuban people.

And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than any time in over a decade. Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend Christmas in harm’s way.  And they should know that the country is united in support of you and grateful not only to you but also to your families.

The six years since the crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everybody’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve accomplished — more jobs; more people insured; a growing economy; shrinking deficits; bustling industry; booming energy.  Pick any metric that you want — America’s resurgence is real.  We are better off.

I’ve always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, and on that business, America has outperformed all of our other competitors.  Over the past four years, we’ve put more people back to work than all other advanced economies combined.  We’ve now come to a point where we have the chance to reverse an even deeper problem, the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes, and to make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers our prosperity for decades to come.

To do that, we’re going to have to make some smart choices; we’ve got to make the right choices.  We’re going to have to invest in the things that secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  And I’m being absolutely sincere when I say I want to work with this new Congress to get things done, to make those investments, to make sure the government is working better and smarter.  We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement and we’ve got to be able to make that happen.  And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.

In terms of my own job, I’m energized, I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years, and I’m certainly not going to be stopping for a minute in the effort to make life better for ordinary Americans.  Because, thanks to their efforts, we really do have a new foundation that’s been laid.  We are better positioned than we have been in a very long time.  A new future is ready to be written.  We’ve set the stage for this American moment.  And I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure that we seize it.

My presidency is entering the fourth quarter; interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.  And I’m looking forward to it.  But going into the fourth quarter, you usually get a timeout.  I’m now looking forward to a quiet timeout — Christmas with my family.  So I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Year.  I hope that all of you get some time to spend with your families as well, because one thing that we share is that we’re away too much from them.

And now, Josh has given me the “who’s been naughty and who’s been nice” list — (laughter) — and I’m going to use it to take some questions.  And we’re going to start with Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico.  There you go, Carrie.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’ll start on North Korea — that seems to be the biggest topic today.  What does a proportional response look like to the Sony hack?  And did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie?  Or does that set a dangerous precedent when faced with this kind of situation?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me address the second question first.  Sony is a corporation.  It suffered significant damage.  There were threats against its employees.  I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced.  Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.

In this interconnected, digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector.  Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place.  When I came into office, I stood up a cybersecurity interagency team to look at everything that we could at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks.  We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done.  We’re not even close to where we need to be.

And one of the things in the New Year that I hope Congress is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.

But even as we get better, the hackers are going to get better, too.  Some of them are going to be state actors; some of them are going to be non-state actors.  All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage.

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.  Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.  Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.

So that’s not who we are.  That’s not what America is about.
Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities, and this and that and the other.  I wish they had spoken to me first.  I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.  Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks.  Is that what it takes for suddenly you to pull the plug on something?

So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry and the private sector around these issues.  We already have.  We will continue to do so.  But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this.  They’re going to be costly.  They’re going to be serious.  We take them with the utmost seriousness.  But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm.  So let’s not get into that way of doing business.

Q    Can you just say what the response would be to this attack?  Wwould you consider taking some sort of symbolic step like watching the movie yourself or doing some sort of screening here that —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching.  (Laughter.)

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list.

But let’s talk of the specifics of what we now know.  The FBI announced today and we can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack.  I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco [Franco].  (Laughter.)  I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here.

They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond.  We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.  It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.

More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates.  Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West.  And part of the problem is, is you’ve got weak states that can engage in these kinds of attacks, you’ve got non-state actors that can do enormous damage.  That’s part of what makes this issue of cybersecurity so urgent.

Again, this is part of the reason why it’s going to be so important for Congress to work with us and get a actual bill passed that allows for the kind of information-sharing we need.  Because if we don’t put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent these attacks from taking place, this is not just going to be affecting movies, this is going to be affecting our entire economy in ways that are extraordinarily significant.

And, by the way, I hear you’re moving to Europe.  Where you going to be?

Q    Brussels.

THE PRESIDENT:  Brussels.

Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations.

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

Q    It’s been a long road for the both of us.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there’s no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico.  (Laughter.)

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement.

THE PRESIDENT:  The waffles are delicious there, by the way.
Cheryl Bolen.  You’ve been naughty.  (Laughter.)  Cheryl, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Looking ahead to your work with Congress next year, you’ve mentioned as an area of possible compromise tax reform.  And so I am wondering, do you see a Republican Congress as presenting a better opportunity for actually getting tax reform next year?  Will you be putting out a new proposal?  Are you willing to consider both individual and corporate side of the tax ledger there?  And also, are you still concerned about corporate inversions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think an all-Democratic Congress would have provided an even better opportunity for tax reform.  But I think, talking to Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell that they are serious about wanting to get some things done.  The tax area is one area where we can get things done.  And I think in the coming weeks leading up to the State of Union, there will be some conversations at the staff levels about what principles each side are looking at.

I can tell you broadly what I’d like to see.  I’d like to see more simplicity in the system.  I’d like to see more fairness in the system.  With respect to the corporate tax reform issue, we know that there are companies that are paying the full freight — 35 percent — higher than just about any other company on Earth, if you’re paying 35 percent, and then there are other companies that are paying zero because they’ve got better accountants or lawyers.  That’s not fair.

There are companies that are parking money outside the country because of tax avoidance.  We think that it’s important that everybody pays something if, in fact, they are effectively headquartered in the United States.  In terms of corporate inversion, those are situations where companies really are headquartered here but, on paper, switch their headquarters to see if they can avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  I think that needs to be fixed.

So, fairness, everybody paying their fair share, everybody taking responsibility I think is going to be very important.

Some of those principles I’ve heard Republicans say they share.  How we do that — the devil is in the details.  And I’ll be interested in seeing what they want to move forward.  I’m going to make sure that we put forward some pretty specific proposals building on what we’ve already put forward.

One other element of this that I think is important is — and I’ve been on this hobby horse now for six years.  (Audience member sneezes.)  Bless you.  We’ve got a lot of infrastructure we’ve got to rebuild in this country if we’re going to be competitive — roads, bridges, ports, airports, electrical grids, water systems, sewage systems.  We are way behind.

And early on we indicated that there is a way of us potentially doing corporate tax reform, lowering rates, eliminating loopholes so everybody is paying their fair share, and during that transition also providing a mechanism where we can get some infrastructure built.  I’d like to see us work on that issue as well.  Historically, obviously, infrastructure has not been a Democratic or a Republican issue, and I’d like to see if we can return to that tradition.

Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about Cuba. What would you say to dissidents or democracy advocates inside Cuba who fear that the policy changes you announced this week could give the Castro regime economic benefits without having to address human rights or their political system?  When your administration was lifting sanctions on Myanmar you sought commitments of reform.  Why not do the same with Cuba?

And if I could just follow up on North Korea.  Do you have any indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country, perhaps China?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country.

With respect to Cuba, we are glad that the Cuban government have released slightly over 50 dissidents; that they are going to be allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations human rights agencies to operate more freely inside of Cuba and monitor what is taking place.

I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people. And as I said when I made the announcement, I don’t anticipate overnight changes, but what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.

And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome, because suddenly Cuba is open to the world in ways that it has not been before.  It’s open to Americans traveling there in ways that it hasn’t been before.  It’s open to church groups visiting their fellow believers inside of Cuba in ways they haven’t been before.  It offers the prospect of telecommunications and the Internet being more widely available in Cuba in ways that it hasn’t been before.

And over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society, and I believe offers the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people.

I think it will happen in fits and starts.  But through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change then we would have otherwise.

Q    Do you have a goal for where you see Cuba being at the end of your presidency?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it would be unrealistic for me to map out exactly where Cuba will be.  But change is going to come to Cuba.  It has to.  They’ve got an economy that doesn’t work.  They’ve been reliant for years first on subsidies from the Soviet Union, then on subsidies from Venezuela.  Those can’t be sustained.  And the more the Cuban people see what’s possible, the more interested they are going to be in change.

But how societies change is country-specific, it’s culturally specific.  It could happen fast; it could happen slower than I’d like; but it’s going to happen.  And I think this change in policy is going to advance that.

Lesley Clark.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I had a number of questions on Cuba as well.  Appreciate that.  I wanted to —

THE PRESIDENT:  Do I have to write all these down?  How many are there?  (Laughter.)  “A number” sounded intimidating.

Q    As quick as I can.  As quick as I can.  I wanted to see if you got an assurances from the Cuban government that it would not revert to the same sort of — sabotage the deal, as it has in the past when past Presidents had made similar overtures to the government.

THE PRESIDENT:  Meaning?  Be specific.  What do you mean?

Q    When the Clinton administration made some overtures, they shot down planes.  They sort of had this pattern of doing provocative — provocative events.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

Q    Provocative activities any time the U.S. has sort of reached out a hand to them.  I wanted to see what is your knowledge of whether Fidel Castro — did he have any role in the talks?  When you talked to President Raul Castro, did Fidel Castro’s name come up?  Or did you ask about him?  How he’s doing?  People haven’t seen him in a while.  Given the deep opposition from some Republicans in Congress to lifting the embargo, to an embassy, to any of the changes that you’re doing, are you going to personally get involved in terms of talking to them about efforts that they want to do to block money on a new embassy?

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, Lesley, I think I’m going to cut you off here.  (Laughter.)  This is taking up a lot of time.

Q    Okay, all right.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  So, with respect to sabotage, I mean, my understanding of the history, for example, of the plane being shot down, it’s not clear that that was the Cuban government purposely trying to undermine overtures by the Clinton administration.  It was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.  I haven’t seen a historical record that suggests that they shot the plane down specifically in order to undermine overtures by the Clinton government.

I think it is not precedented for the President of the United States and the President of Cuba to make an announcement at the same time that they are moving towards normalizing relations.  So there hasn’t been anything like this in the past. That doesn’t meant that over the next two years we can anticipate them taking certain actions that we may end up finding deeply troubling either inside of Cuba or with respect to their foreign policy.  And that could put significant strains on the relationship.  But that’s true of a lot of countries out there where we have an embassy.  And the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government than not.

So I would be surprised if the Cuban government purposely tries to undermine what is now effectively its own policy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they take at any given time actions that we think are a problem.  And we will be in a position to respond to whatever actions they take the same way we do with a whole range of countries around the world when they do things we think are wrong.  But the point is, is that we will be in a better position I think to actually have some influence, and there may be carrots as well as sticks that we can then apply.

The only way that Fidel’s name came up — I think I may have mentioned this in the Davie Muir article — interview that I did — was I delivered a fairly lengthy statement at the front end about how we’re looking forward to a new future in the relationship between our two countries, but that we are going to continue to press on issues of democracy and human rights, which we think are important.

My opening remarks probably took about 15 minutes, which on the phone is a pretty long time.  And at the end of that, he said, Mr. President, you’re still a young man.  Perhaps you have the — at the end of my remarks I apologized for taking such a long time, but I wanted to make sure that before we engaged in the conversation he was very clear about where I stood.  He said, oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. President, you’re still a young man and you have still the chance to break Fidel’s record — he once spoke seven hours straight.  (Laughter.)

And then, President Castro proceeded to deliver his own preliminary remarks that last at least twice as long as mine.  (Laughter.)  And then I was able to say, obviously it runs in the family.  But that was the only discussion of Fidel Castro that we had.

I sort of forgot all the other questions.  (Laughter.)

Q    I have a few more if you’re — how personally involved are you going to get in —

THE PRESIDENT:  With respect to Congress?  We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo.  That’s codified in the Libertad Act.  And what I do think is going to happen, though, is there’s going to be a process where Congress digests it.  There are bipartisan supporters of our new approach, there are bipartisan detractors of this new approach.  People will see how the actions we take unfold.  And I think there’s going to be a healthy debate inside of Congress.

And I will certainly weigh in.  I think that ultimately we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in.  But I don’t anticipate that that happens right away.  I think people are going to want to see how does this move forward before there’s any serious debate about whether or not we would make major shifts in the embargo.

Roberta Rampton.

Q    I want to follow on that by asking, under what conditions would you meet with President Castro in Havana?  Would you have certain preconditions that you would want to see met before doing that?  And on the hack, I know that you said that you’re not going to announce your response, but can you say whether you’re considering additional economic or financial sanctions on North Korea?  Can you rule out the use of military force or some kind of cyber hit of your own?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think I’m going to leave it where I left it, which is we just confirmed that it was North Korea; we have been working up a range of options.  They will be presented to me.  I will make a decision on those based on what I believe is proportional and appropriate to the nature of this crime.

With respect to Cuba, we’re not at a stage here where me visiting Cuba or President Castro coming to the United States is in the cards.  I don’t know how this relationship will develop over the next several years.  I’m a fairly young man so I imagine that at some point in my life I will have the opportunity to visit Cuba and enjoy interacting with the Cuban people.  But there’s nothing specific where we’re trying to target some sort of visit on my part.

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

Q    You spoke earlier about 2014 being a breakthrough year, and you ended the year with executive actions on Cuba and immigration and climate change.  But you didn’t make much progress this year on your legislative agenda.  And some Republican lawmakers have said they’re less inclined to work with you if you pursue executive actions so aggressively.  Are you going to continue to pursue executive actions if that creates more roadblocks for your legislative agenda?  Or have you concluded that it’s not possible to break the fever in Washington and the partisan gridlock here?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress.  As I said before, I take Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell at their words that they want to get things done.  I think the American people would like to see us get some things done.  The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree.  I think there are going to be some tough fights on areas where we disagree.

If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me.  If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no.  And I’m confident that I’ll be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions.  But on increasing American exports, on simplifying our tax system, on rebuilding our infrastructure, my hope is that we can get some things done.

I’ve never been persuaded by this argument that if it weren’t for the executive actions they would have been more productive.  There’s no evidence of that.  So I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m going to do it.  And I will then, side-by-side, reach out to members of Congress, reach out to Republicans, and say, let’s work together; I’d rather do it with you.

Immigration is the classic example.  I was really happy when the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill.  And I did everything I could for a year and a half to provide Republicans the space to act, and showed not only great patience, but flexibility, saying to them, look, if there are specific changes you’d like to see, we’re willing to compromise, we’re willing to be patient, we’re willing to work with you.  Ultimately it wasn’t forthcoming.

And so the question is going to be I think if executive actions on areas like minimum wage, or equal pay, or having a more sensible immigration system are important to Republicans, if they care about those issues, and the executive actions are bothering them, there is a very simple solution, and that is:  Pass bills.  And work with me to make sure I’m willing to sign those bills.

Because both sides are going to have to compromise.  On most issues, in order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have sign off.  And that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to have to take into account the issues that they care about.

All right.  I think this is going to be our last question.  Juliet Eilperin.  There you go.

Q    Thanks so much.  So one of the first bills that Mitch McConnell said he will send to you is one that would authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  When you talked about this in the past, you’ve minimized the benefits and you highlighted some of the risks associated with that project.  I’m wondering if you could tell us both what you would do when faced with that bill, given the Republican majority that we’ll have in both chambers.  And also, what do you see as the benefits?  And given the precipitous drop we’ve seen in oil prices recently, does that change the calculus in terms of how it will contribute to climate change, and whether you think it makes sense to go ahead with that project?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t think I’ve minimized the benefits, I think I’ve described the benefits.  At issue in Keystone is not American oil.  It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada.  That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf.  Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world.

So there’s no — I won’t say “no” — there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices — what the average American consumer cares about — by having this pipeline come through.  And sometimes the way this gets sold is, let’s get this oil and it’s going to come here.  And the implication is, is that’s going to lower gas prices here in the United States.  It’s not.  There’s a global oil market.  It’s very good for Canadian oil companies and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers.  It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.

Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs.  Those are temporary jobs until the construction actually happens.  There’s probably some additional jobs that can be created in the refining process down in the Gulf.  Those aren’t completely insignificant — it’s just like any other project.  But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country — something that Congress could authorize — we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that’s the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying Americans construction jobs.

And then, with respect to the cost, all I’ve said is that I want to make sure that if, in fact, this project goes forward, that it’s not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people — some of them long term, but significant costs nonetheless.  If we’ve got more flooding, more wildfires, more drought, there are direct economic impacts on that.

And as we’re now rebuilding after Sandy, for example, we’re having to consider how do we increase preparedness in how we structure infrastructure and housing, and so forth, along the Jersey Shore.  That’s an example of the kind of costs that are imposed, and you can put a dollar figure on it.

So, in terms of process, you’ve got a Nebraska judge that’s still determining whether or not the new path for this pipeline is appropriate.  Once that is resolved, then the State Department will have all the information it needs to make its decision.

But I’ve just tried to give this perspective, because I think that there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information from.

In terms of oil prices and how it impacts the decision, I think that it won’t have a significant impact except perhaps in the minds of folks — when gas prices are lower, maybe they’re less susceptible to the argument that this is the answer to lowering gas prices.  But it was never going to be the answer to lowering gas prices, because the oil that would be piped through the Keystone pipeline would go into the world market.  And that’s what determines oil prices, ultimately.

Q    And in terms of Congress forcing your hand on this, is this something where you clearly say you’re not going to let Congress force your hand on whether to approve or disapprove of this?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll see what they do.  We’ll take that up in the New Year.

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll ask — April, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Last question, I guess.  (Laughter.)  Six years ago this month, I asked you what was the state of black America in the Oval Office, and you said it was the “the best of times and the worst of times.”  You said it was the best of times in the sense that there was — has never been more opportunity for African Americans to receive a good education, and the worst of times for unemployment and the lack of opportunity.  We’re ending 2014.  What is the state of black America as we talk about those issues as well as racial issues in this country?

THE PRESIDENT:  Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office.  The jobs that have been created, the people who’ve gotten health insurance, the housing equity that’s been recovered, the 401 pensions that have been recovered — a lot of those folks are African American.  They’re better off than they were.

The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists.  And we’ve got more work to do on that front.  I’ve been consistent in saying that this is a legacy of a troubled racial past of Jim Crow and slavery.  That’s not an excuse for black folks.  And I think the overwhelming majority of black people understand it’s not an excuse.  They’re working hard. They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college.  But they’re starting behind, oftentimes, in the race.

And what’s true for all Americans is we should be willing to provide people a hand up — not a handout, but help folks get that good early childhood education, help them graduate from high school, help them afford college.  If they do, they’re going to be able to succeed, and that’s going to be good for all of us.

And we’ve seen some progress.  The education reforms that we’ve initiated are showing measurable results.  We have the highest high school graduation that we’ve seen in a very long time.  We are seeing record numbers of young people attending college.  In many states that have initiated reforms, you’re seeing progress in math scores and reading scores for African American and Latino students as well as the broader population.  But we’ve still got more work to go.

Now, obviously, how we’re thinking about race relations right now has been colored by Ferguson, the Garner case in New York, a growing awareness in the broader population of what I think many communities of color have understood for some time, and that is that there are specific instances at least where law enforcement doesn’t feel as if it’s being applied in a colorblind fashion.

The task force that I formed is supposed to report back to me in 90 days — not with a bunch of abstract musings about race relations, but some really concrete, practical things that police departments and law enforcement agencies can begin implementing right now to rebuild trust between communities of color and the police department.

And my intention is to, as soon as I get those recommendations, to start implementing them.  Some of them we’ll be able to do through executive action.  Some of them will require congressional action.  Some of them will require action on the part of states and local jurisdictions.

But I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we’ve had.  These are not new phenomenon.  The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been, in the past, stories passed on around a kitchen table, allows people to make their own assessments and evaluations.  And you’re not going to solve a problem if it’s not being talked about.

In the meantime, we’ve been moving forward on criminal justice reform issues more broadly.  One of the things I didn’t talk about in my opening statement is the fact that last year was the first time in 40 years where we had the federal prison population go down and the crime rate go down at the same time, which indicates the degree to which it’s possible for us to think smarter about who we’re incarcerating, how long we’re incarcerating, how are we dealing with nonviolent offenders, how are we dealing with drug offenses, diversion programs, drug courts.  We can do a better job of — and save money in the process by initiating some of these reforms.  And I’ve been really pleased to see that we’ve had Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are interested in these issues as well.

The one thing I will say — and this is going to be the last thing I say — is that one of the great things about this job is you get to know the American people.  I mean, you meet folks from every walk of life and every region of the country, and every race and every faith.  And what I don’t think is always captured in our political debates is the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing, and people are basically good and have good intentions.  Sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should.  Sometimes you’ve got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn’t maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around.  But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems.  It’s not — this isn’t a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying.  I think that troubles everybody.  So there’s an opportunity of all of us to come together and to take a practical approach to these problems.

And I guess that’s my general theme for the end of the year — which is we’ve gone through difficult times.  It is your job, press corps, to report on all the mistakes that are made and all the bad things that happen and the crises that look like they’re popping.  And I understand that.  But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better.  The economy has gotten better.  Our ability to generate clean energy has gotten better.  We know more about how to educate our kids.  We solved problems.  Ebola is a real crisis; you get a mistake in the first case because it’s not something that’s been seen before — we fix it.  You have some unaccompanied children who spike at a border, and it may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed.

And part of what I hope as we reflect on the New Year this should generate is some confidence.  America knows how to solve problems.  And when we work together, we can’t be stopped.

And now I’m going to go on vacation.  Mele Kalikimaka, everybody.  (Laughter.)  Mahalo.  Thank you, everybody.

END
2:45 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Afternoon and evening Hanukkah ReceptionsFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks By The President At Evening Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-17-14 

State Floor

8:03 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!

AUDIENCE:  Hello!

THE PRESIDENT:  Happy Hanukkah!

AUDIENCE:  Happy Hanukkah!

THE PRESIDENT:  This is a particularly good-looking Hanukkah crowd.

MRS. OBAMA:  It’s good.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s very impressive.

Now, every year, Michelle and I like to invite just a few friends over for a small Hanukkah celebration.  (Laughter.)   Nothing fancy.  This is the second year we’ve invited so many friends that we ended up having to have two Hanukkah parties.  (Applause.)   We had one earlier this afternoon.  I have to tell you, this is the better party.  (Applause.)  Don’t tell anybody because —

MRS. OBAMA:  He said that earlier.

THE PRESIDENT:  I said that earlier.  (Laughter.)  But I really mean it this time.  (Applause.)

We are blessed to have so many friends and dignitaries here. I want to welcome Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who’s here, and his wife, Rhoda –- (applause) — all our friends from the State of Israel, who remind us that the bonds between our two countries are unbreakable.  (Applause.)

We have leaders from across my administration, including our outstanding Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew.  (Applause.) Council of Economic Advisers Chair, Jason Furman.  Give Jason some more — Jason actually is the guy who gives me the jobs report every month.  Ever since he’s come on they’ve been really good.  So give Jason a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients is here.  (Applause.)  We’ve got the Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley. (Applause.)  We’ve got all kinds of members of Congress here, including our DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  (Applause.)  The president of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman.  (Applause.)  And a member of my team who’s leaving to become ADL’s next president, Jonathan Greenblatt.  (Applause.)

Now, I’m going to begin by saying what a glorious day this is — because, after five years, American Alan Gross is free.  (Applause.)  As all of you know, he was arrested five years ago by Cuban authorities simply for helping ordinary Cubans — including a small Jewish community in Cuba –- just for access information on the Internet.  Today, after 1,840 days, he is back where he belongs — with his wife Judy and his family.  And as you heard Alan say today, this is his best Hanukkah.

From his cell, Alan once wrote, “I refuse to accept that my country would leave me behind.”  And he is right.  We’re committed to the principle that no American ever gets left behind.  We do everything in our power to bring Americans home.  So we thank all those who helped to make sure that Alan was never forgotten.  And as now we’re moving forward, we know that the historic changes I announced today will mean greater opportunity and progress for both Americans and for Cubans, including the small but proud Jewish community in Cuba.  (Applause.)

So we are here to celebrate a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors.  In the face of —  what do we got playing there?  (Laughter.)  What you got on your phone?  I was trying to figure out the ringtone.  (Laughter.)

Where was I?  Small group of Maccabees — right!  Rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors.  In the face of   overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city, and the right to worship as they choose.

And after their victory, the Maccabees found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive.  But they lit the oil that they had.  And miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight.  The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than even we could imagine — with a little bit of faith, and making sure that it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

The menorahs that we’re about to light remind us of our power to make miracles happen.  It was one of four that were brought here from Israel, and was built by children in Yemin Orde, a village in Israel founded in 1953 to provide a safe haven to orphans and young immigrants after the Holocaust.  More than 60 years later, Yemin Orde still gives children in Israel a shot at a brighter future.  And tonight, Atakalit Tesfaye, a graduate of Yemin Orde, will help us light the Hanukkah candles.  (Applause.)

He will be joined by Dr. Adam Levine.  Now, I just want to be clear, this is not — (laughter) — Adam Levine, People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive — (laughter) — although he’s a pretty sexy guy.  (Laughter.)  This is actually Dr. Adam Levine, Time’s Person of the Year.  (Applause.)  Along with his compatriots, Adam, who recently returned from Liberia, has been doing heroic work for Ebola patients, saving lives.  (Applause.)

Yemin Orde is just one village.  But the story of Hanukkah teaches us that there’s no such thing as a futile act of courage, or a small act of faith.  One doctor can save a life.  One school can help a child.  That life, that child may change a village.  One person can be the spark that changes the world.

So as we gather with family and friends, let’s give thanks to the miracles that we’ve been blessed with in our own lives — miracles large and small — same ringtone.  (Laughter.)  During this Festival of Lights, let’s commit ourselves to making new miracles, and to sharing them with the world.

I’d now like to invite Rabbi Angela Buchdahl — from Manhattan — (applause) — to lead us in the blessing and candle-lighting.  (Applause.)

END
8:11 P.M. EST

 

Remarks by the President at Afternoon Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-17-14 

East Room

4:27 P.M. EST

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Happy Hanukkah, Mr. President!

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Happy Hanukkah to you!  (Laughter.)  You stole my line.  (Laughter.)  Happy Hanukkah, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Happy Hannukah.

MRS. OBAMA:  Welcome to the White House.  I want to welcome the members of Congress who are here today.  We’ve got some Bronfman Fellows — (applause) — who are here from the State of Israel.  (Applause.)  Obviously, the bonds between our two countries are unbreakable, and with the help of young people, they’re only going to grow stronger in the years to come.

Every year, Michelle and I like to invite just a few friends over for a little Hanukkah celebration.  (Laughter.)  Nothing fancy.  Actually, this is the second year we’ve invited so many friends that we’re hosting two parties instead of one.  This is our first party — it is the best party.  (Laughter.)  Don’t tell the others, though.

I want to begin with today’s wonderful news.  I’m told that in the Jewish tradition, one of the great mitzvahs is pidyon shvuyim.  (Applause.)  My Hebrew is not perfect, but I get points for trying.  But it describes the redemption, the freeing, of captives.  And that’s what we’re celebrating today, because after being unjustly held in Cuba for more than five years, American Alan Gross is free.  (Applause.)

Alan has dedicated his life to others — to helping people around the world develop their communities and improve their lives, including Israelis and Palestinians.  He’s a man of deep faith who once worked for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.  Five years ago, he was arrested by Cuban authorities simply for helping ordinary Cubans, including Cuba’s small Jewish community, access information on the Internet.  And ever since, those who have loved and cared for Alan never stopped working to bring him home:  Judy, his wife of 44 years, and their daughters, including his oldest daughter who walked down the aisle without her dad on her wedding day.  His mother, who passed away this year without being able to see her son one last time.  His whole family, including his sister-in-law, Gwen Zuares, who joins us here today — where is Gwen?  (Applause.)  Hey, Gwen.  His rabbi, his friends at his congregation in Maryland, Am Kolel, who kept him in their prayers every Shabbat.  Jewish and other faith leaders across the country and around the world, including His Holiness Pope Francis.  And members of Congress and those of us in the United States government.

And Alan has fought back.  He spoke out from his cell, he went on a hunger strike.  With his health deteriorating, his family worried he might not be able to make it out alive.  But he never gave up, and we never gave up.

As I explained earlier, after our many months of discussion with the Cuban government, Alan was finally released this morning on humanitarian grounds.  I spoke to him on his flight.  He said he was willing to interrupt his corned beef sandwich to talk to me.  (Laughter.)  I told him he had mustard in his mustache; I couldn’t actually see it.  (Laughter.)  But needless to say, he was thrilled.  And he landed at Andrews in a plane marked “The United States of America.”  (Applause.)

He’s going to be getting the medical attention that he needs.  He’s back where he belongs — in America, with his family, home for Hanukkah.  And I can’t think of a better way to mark this holiday, with its message that freedom is possible, than with the historic changes that I announced today in our Cuba policy.  (Applause.)  These are changes that are rooted in America’s commitment to freedom and democracy for all the Cuban people, including its small but proud Jewish community.  And Alan’s remarks about the need for these changes was extremely powerful.

So what brings us together is not just lox and latkes — (laughter) — although I have heard the latkes here are outstanding.  (Applause.)  Am I wrong?  Not as good as your mom’s, but they’re good.  (Applause.)

We’re here to celebrate a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors.  In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose.  And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive.  But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight.  The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

This is something that Inbar Vardi and Mouran Ibrahim know very well.  They are Israeli ninth-graders at Hand in Hand, which is a bilingual school in Jerusalem.  (Applause.)  For more than a decade, it’s brought Jewish and Arab children together.  So Inbar is Jewish; Mouran is Muslim.

Just two weeks ago, their school’s first-grade classroom was set on fire by arsonists.  In the weeks that followed, they and their classmates could have succumbed to anger or cynicism, but instead they built this menorah, one of four that we brought here from Israel this year.  Each of its branches are dedicated to one of the values their school is founded on — values like community and dignity and equality and peace.  Inbar and Mouran flew here from Israel along with Rebecca Bardach, the mother of a first-grader and second-grader at Hand in Hand, and in just a few minutes the three of them are going to join us in lighting the Hanukkah candles here at the White House.  (Applause.)

So Inbar and Mouran and their fellow students teach us a critical lesson for this time in our history:  The light of hope must outlast the fires of hate.  That’s what the Hanukkah story teaches us.  That’s what our young people can teach us — that one act of faith can make a miracle.  That love is stronger than hate.  That peace can triumph over conflict.  And during this Festival of Lights, let’s commit ourselves to making some small miracles ourselves and then sharing them with the world.

I now want to invite Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson to the podium who can lead us in the blessings for the candle lighting.  Rabbi.  (Applause.)

(The blessings are given.)

END                  4:38 P.M. EST

 

 

 

Full Text Obama Presidency December 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Normalization of Diplomatic Relations with CubaFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Cuba Policy Changes

Source: WH, 12-17-14

Cabinet Room

12:01 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:   Good afternoon.  Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.

In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.  Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

There’s a complicated history between the United States and Cuba.  I was born in 1961 –- just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime. Over the next several decades, the relationship between our countries played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and America’s steadfast opposition to communism.  We are separated by just over 90 miles. But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.

Meanwhile, the Cuban exile community in the United States made enormous contributions to our country –- in politics and business, culture and sports.  Like immigrants before, Cubans helped remake America, even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind.  All of this bound America and Cuba in a unique relationship, at once family and foe.

Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else.  And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.  Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago.

Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.  Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China –- a far larger country also governed by a Communist Party.  Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation.

That’s why -– when I came into office -– I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy.  As a start, we lifted restrictions for Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba.  These changes, once controversial, now seem obvious. Cuban Americans have been reunited with their families, and are the best possible ambassadors for our values.  And through these exchanges, a younger generation of Cuban Americans has increasingly questioned an approach that does more to keep Cuba closed off from an interconnected world.

While I have been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way –- the wrongful imprisonment, in Cuba, of a U.S. citizen and USAID sub-contractor Alan Gross for five years.  Over many months, my administration has held discussions with the Cuban government about Alan’s case, and other aspects of our relationship.  His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years.

Today, Alan returned home –- reunited with his family at long last.  Alan was released by the Cuban government on humanitarian grounds.  Separately, in exchange for the three Cuban agents, Cuba today released one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba, and who has been imprisoned for nearly two decades.  This man, whose sacrifice has been known to only a few, provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today, as well as other spies in the United States.  This man is now safely on our shores.

Having recovered these two men who sacrificed for our country, I’m now taking steps to place the interests of the people of both countries at the heart of our policy.

First, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

Where we can advance shared interests, we will -– on issues like health, migration, counterterrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response.  Indeed, we’ve seen the benefits of cooperation between our countries before.  It was a Cuban, Carlos Finlay, who discovered that mosquitoes carry yellow fever; his work helped Walter Reed fight it.  Cuba has sent hundreds of health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola, and I believe American and Cuban health care workers should work side by side to stop the spread of this deadly disease.

Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly -– as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.  But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.  After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.  It’s time for a new approach.

Second, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  This review will be guided by the facts and the law.  Terrorism has changed in the last several decades.  At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction.

Third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.  This is fundamentally about freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement.  With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island.  Nobody represents America’s values better than the American people, and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.

I also believe that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people.  So we’re significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.

I believe that American businesses should not be put at a disadvantage, and that increased commerce is good for Americans and for Cubans.  So we will facilitate authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba.  U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions.  And it will be easier for U.S. exporters to sell goods in Cuba.

I believe in the free flow of information.  Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.  So I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba.  Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.

These are the steps that I can take as President to change this policy.  The embargo that’s been imposed for decades is now codified in legislation.  As these changes unfold, I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.

Yesterday, I spoke with Raul Castro to finalize Alan Gross’s release and the exchange of prisoners, and to describe how we will move forward.  I made clear my strong belief that Cuban society is constrained by restrictions on its citizens.  In addition to the return of Alan Gross and the release of our intelligence agent, we welcome Cuba’s decision to release a substantial number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban government by my team.  We welcome Cuba’s decision to provide more access to the Internet for its citizens, and to continue increasing engagement with international institutions like the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross that promote universal values.

But I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans.  The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there.  While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.

Moreover, given Cuba’s history, I expect it will continue to pursue foreign policies that will at times be sharply at odds with American interests.  I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight.  But I am convinced that through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.

To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy.  The question is how we uphold that commitment.  I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.  Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  Even if that worked -– and it hasn’t for 50 years –- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.  We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.  In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.

To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship.  Some of you have looked to us as a source of hope, and we will continue to shine a light of freedom.  Others have seen us as a former colonizer intent on controlling your future.  José Martí once said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest.”  Today, I am being honest with you.  We can never erase the history between us, but we believe that you should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination.  Cubans have a saying about daily life:  “No es facil” –- it’s not easy.  Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.

To those who have supported these measures, I thank you for being partners in our efforts.  In particular, I want to thank His Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is; the government of Canada, which hosted our discussions with the Cuban government; and a bipartisan group of congressmen who have worked tirelessly for Alan Gross’s release, and for a new approach to advancing our interests and values in Cuba.

Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas.  This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas.  But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.  And I call on all of my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the Inter-American Charter.  Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.  A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together — not to maintain power, not to secure vested interest, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.

My fellow Americans, the city of Miami is only 200 miles or so from Havana.  Countless thousands of Cubans have come to Miami — on planes and makeshift rafts; some with little but the shirt on their back and hope in their hearts.  Today, Miami is often referred to as the capital of Latin America.  But it is also a profoundly American city -– a place that reminds us that ideals matter more than the color of our skin, or the circumstances of our birth; a demonstration of what the Cuban people can achieve, and the openness of the United States to our family to the South.  Todos somos Americanos.

Change is hard –- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations.  And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders.  But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do.  Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.

Thank you.  God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

END
12:16 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at “Christmas in Washington”

Source: WH, 12-15-14

National Building Museum

7:32 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Give it up for Santa’s biggest, baddest elf — our host, The Rock. (Applause.) Dwayne is tough as nails on the outside, but as you heard earlier, he is a big softie on the inside. Even played me once on “Saturday Night Live.” (Laughter.) You can see the resemblance. (Laughter.) I have a little more hair.

I want to thank all the incredible performers for dazzling us with their talents tonight. Give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) And we want to thank all the people behind the scenes who help make this wonderful event possible every single year.

For 33 years, “Christmas in Washington” has benefited a remarkable institution — Children’s National Medical Center. That’s where dedicated medical professionals provide world-class care to our most precious resource — our children — every single day of the year. Of course, this holiday is all about the birth of a child more than 2,000 years ago. A young soon-to-be mother and her husband of modest means traveled to Bethlehem and sought shelter for the night. They found it in a manger. And in the lowliest of surroundings a Savior was born who would change the world.

Jesus Christ lived a life of peace, of love, and kindness and forgiveness. He administered to the poor and to the sick, to the stranger and the outcast on society’s margins. His life of service teaches us that our individual salvation is wrapped up in the salvation of others. And two millennia later, it lifts the hearts of billions around the world, Christians and non-Christians alike.

In the hustle and bustle of Christmas season, may we all do our best to follow his example, to reach out to someone whose Christmas isn’t so jolly; to turn our blessings into kindness and compassion; to treat one another the way we would like to be treated. That’s the real Christmas spirit.

To all our men and women in uniform serving far from home, and to the families who miss them, we thank you for your service and sacrifice, and we’re thinking of you this holiday season. And to every American, from the Obama family to yours, Merry Christmas. God bless you, and God bless America.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 7:36 P.M. EST

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