Political Musings March 13, 2015: Romney wants Obama to refuse Iran deal defends Netanyahu and 47 GOP senators

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Romney wants Obama to refuse Iran deal defends Netanyahu and 47 GOP senators

March 13, 2015

Just because he is not running for president in 2016 does not mean former 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney is not going to weigh in on the potential Iran nuclear weapons deal. Romney wrote an op-ed published…

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

Political Musings January 12, 2015: Obama admits he was wrong should have sent high profile official to Paris rally

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obama admits he was wrong should have sent high profile official to Paris rally

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama finally admitted he was wrong. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters during the daily press briefing on Monday, Jan. 12, that the administration “should have sent someone with a higher profile” to the…READ MORE

News Headlines January 11, 2015: World leaders and millions march in Paris, all over the globe against terrorism

NEWS HEADLINES

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THE HEADLINES….

World leaders and millions march in Paris, all over the globe against terrorism

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Over 40 world leaders gathered in Paris, France on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 11, 2015 to lead a march of over a million in solidarity “cry for freedom” with the French capital after three days of terror attacks…READ MORE

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 November 16, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the End of the G20 Summit in Brisbane Australia — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama at G20 Press Conference | November 16, 2014

Source: WH, 11-16-14 

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Center
Brisbane, Australia

4:19 P.M. AEST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Thank you, everybody.Please have a seat.Good afternoon.I want to begin by thanking Prime Minister Abbott, the people of Brisbane, and the people of Australia for being such extraordinary hosts for the G20.All the arrangements were terrific and, as always, the people of Australia could not have been friendlier and better organized.So I very much appreciate everything that you have done.

We had a lot of good discussions during the course of the G20, but as our Australian friends say, this wasn’t just a “good old chinwag.”I really love that expression.(Laughter.)It was a productive summit.And so I want to thank Tony for his leadership, and the people of Brizzy truly did shine throughout this process with their hospitality.

This is the final day of a trip that has taken me across the Asia Pacific — a visit that comes against the backdrop of America’s renewed economic strength.The United States is in the longest stretch of uninterrupted private sector job growth in its history.Over the last few years, we’ve put more people back to work than all the other advanced economies combined.And this growing economic strength at home set the stage for the progress that we have made on this trip.It’s been a good week for American leadership and for American workers.

We made important progress in our efforts to open markets to U.S. goods and to boost the exports that support American jobs.We continue to make progress toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership.Our agreement with China to extend visas for business people, tourists and students is going to boost tourism, grow our two economies and create jobs for Americans and Chinese alike.We also agreed with China to pursue a bilateral investment treaty, as well as agreeing on an approach to the Information Technology Agreement that is estimated would support some 60,000 American jobs.And here at the G20, China committed to greater transparency on its economic data, including its foreign exchange reserves.And this is a step toward the market-driven exchange rate that we’ve been pushing for because it would promote a level playing field for American businesses and American workers.

Here in Brisbane, all the G20 countries announced strategies to increase growth and put people back to work, including a new initiative to support jobs by building infrastructure.Our nations made commitments that could bring another 100 million women into our collective workforce.We took new steps toward strengthening our banks, closing tax loopholes for multinational companies, and stopping tax evaders and criminals from hiding behind shell companies.And these were all very specific provisions.These were not just goals that were set without any substance behind them.We have made very concrete progress during the course of the last several G20 sessions in preventing companies from avoiding the taxes that they owe in their home countries, including the United States, and making sure that we’ve got a financial system that’s more stable and that can allow a bank to fail without taxpayers having to bail them out.

Meanwhile, the breakthrough the United States achieved with India this week allows for a resumption of talks on a global trade deal that would mean more growth and prosperity for all of us.

This week, we also took historic steps in the fight against climate change.The ambitious new goal that I announced in Beijing will double the pace at which America reduces its carbon pollution while growing our economy and creating jobs, strengthening our energy security, and putting us on the path to a low carbon future.Combined with China’s commitment — China for the first time committed to slowing and then peaking and then reversing the course of its emissions — we’re showing that there’s no excuse for other nations to come together, both developed and developing, to achieve a strong global climate agreement next year.

The $3 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund that I announced yesterday will help developing nations deal with climate change, reduce their carbon pollution and invest in clean energy.I want to commend, by the way, Prime Minister Abe and Japan for their $1.5 billion pledge to the Fund.And following the steps we’ve taken in the United States, many of the G20 countries agreed to work to improve the efficiency of heavy-duty vehicles, which would be another major step in reducing emissions.

And finally, I’m pleased that more nations are stepping up and joining the United States in the effort to end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.Coming on the heels of our Global Health Security Agenda in the United States, the G20 countries committed to helping nations like those in West Africa to build their capacity to prevent, detect and respond to future outbreaks before they become epidemics.

So from trade to climate change to the fight against Ebola, this was a strong week for American leadership.And the results will be more jobs for the American people; historic steps towards a cleaner and healthier planet; and progress towards saving lives not just in West Africa, but eventually in other places.If you ask me, I’d say that’s a pretty good week.The American people can be proud of the progress that we’ve made.I intend to build on that momentum when I return home tomorrow.

And with that, I am going to take a few questions.I’ve got my cheat-sheet here.And we’re going to start with Matt Spetalnick of Reuters.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.Some of your fellow G20 leaders took an in-your-face approach with President Putin.You had conversations —

PRESIDENT OBAMA:I’m sorry, with President —

Q With President Putin.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Oh, I see.

Q Took a kind of confrontational approach to him.You had brief discussions with him at APEC.How confrontational or not were those encounters?Did you have any further exchanges with him here?What, if any, progress did you make with him on the Ukraine issue?And, of course, you’ve now just met with EU leaders.Did you agree on further sanctions?

One other question, sir, on a domestic subject.Are you prepared to state unequivocally that if Congress does pass a Keystone pipeline bill, that you would veto it if it comes to your desk?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:I had naturally several interactions with President Putin during the course of the APEC Summit and then here at G20.I would characterize them as typical of our interactions, which are businesslike and blunt.And my communications to him was no different than what I’ve said publicly as well as what I’ve said to him privately over the course of this crisis in Ukraine, and that is Russia has the opportunity to take a different path, to resolve the issue of Ukraine in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and is consistent with international law.That is our preference, and if it does so then I will be the first to suggest that we roll back the sanctions that are, frankly, having a devastating effect on the Russian economy.

If he continues down the path that he is on — violating international law; providing heavy arms to the separatists in Ukraine; violating an agreement that he agreed to just a few weeks ago, the Minsk Agreement, that would have lowered the temperature and the killing in the disputed areas and make providing us a pathway for a diplomatic resolution — then the isolation that Russia is currently experiencing will continue.

And in my meeting with European leaders, they confirmed their view that so far Russia has not abided by either the spirit or the letter of the agreement that Mr. Putin signed — or agreed to, and that as a consequence we are going to continue to maintain the economic isolation while maintaining the possibility of a diplomatic solution.

It is not our preference to see Russia isolated the way it is.We would prefer a Russia that is fully integrated with the global economy; that is thriving on behalf of its people; that can once again engage with us in cooperative efforts around global challenges.But we’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles.And one of those principles is, is that you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.

Q Did you discuss or agree with them on further sanctions?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:At this point, the sanctions that we have in place are biting plenty good.We retain the capabilities, and we have our teams constantly looking at mechanisms in which to turn up additional pressure as necessary.

With respect to Keystone, I’ve said consistently — and I think I repeated in Burma, but I guess I’ve got to answer it one more — we’re going to let the process play itself out.And the determination will be made in the first instance by the Secretary of State.But I won’t hide my opinion about this, which is that one major determinant of whether we should approve a pipeline shipping Canadian oil to world markets, not to the United States, is does it contribute to the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

Q What were your comments on the pipeline —

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Matt, I got to move on, man.Everybody wants to go home.All right?Other people have questions.Jim Acosta, CNN.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.I wanted to ask you about the climate deal that you agreed to with Chinese President Xi, and on that front but also adding in your expected executive action on immigration, that you’re taking executive actions on a multitude of fronts.And I wanted to ask you, sir, what is stopping a future Republican President, or even a Democratic President, from reversing your executive orders?And are you expanding the powers of the presidency in ways that could potentially backfire on your agenda down the road?

And on the battle against ISIS — your Joint Chiefs Chairman, Martin Dempsey, is in Iraq right now, but at a congressional hearing last week he said he could envision a scenario in which ground forces could be engaged in combat in Iraq alongside Iraqi security forces.I know you’ve ruled out the possibility of having ground forces — U.S. ground forces engaged in combat going house to house and so forth.Has your thinking on that changed somewhat, and might General Dempsey be able to convince you otherwise?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Okay.With respect to the climate agreement, the goal that we’ve set — a 26 to 28 percent reduction by 2025 — we shaped that target based on existing authorities rather than the need for additional congressional action.

And I want to be clear here, Jim, that that’s based not on particular executive actions that I’m taking, but based on the authority that’s been upheld repeatedly by this Supreme Court for the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, to be able to shape rules to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases.

Obviously it’s supplemented by a bunch of stuff that we’re doing that nobody suggests isn’t within our authority.For example, the doubling of fuel-efficiency standards on cars is something that we negotiated with the car companies and with labor groups, and is working really well and we’re selling a lot of American cars domestically as well as internationally.And they are more fuel-efficient cars and, as a consequence, more popular cars.

With respect to executive actions generally, the record will show that I have actually taken fewer executive actions than my predecessors.Nobody disputes that.What I think has changed is the reaction of some of my friends in Congress to exercising what are normal and, frankly, fairly typical exercises of presidential authority.

You are absolutely right that the very nature of an executive action means that a future President could reverse those actions.But that’s always been true.That was true when I came into office; if President Bush had a bunch of executive actions that he had signed, it was part of my authority to reverse them.That’s why, for example, on immigration reform it continues to be my great preference to see Congress pass comprehensive legislation, because that is not reversed by a future President, it would have to be reversed by a future Congress.That’s part of the reason why I’ve argued consistently that we’re better off if we can get a comprehensive deal through Congress.That’s why I showed extraordinary patience with Congress in trying to work a bipartisan deal. That’s why I was so encouraged when the Senate produced a bipartisan immigration deal and why I waited for over a year for Speaker Boehner to call that bipartisan bill in the House.

But as I’ve said before, I can’t wait in perpetuity when I have authorities that, at least for the next two years, can improve the system, can allow us to shift more resources to the border rather than separating families; improve the legal immigration system.I would be derelict in my duties if I did not try to improve the system that everybody acknowledges is broken.

With respect to Syria, Chairman Dempsey I think has consistently said in all his testimony, and I would expect him to always do this, to give me his best military advice and to not be constrained by politics.And he has not advised me that I should be sending U.S. troops to fight.What he said in testimony, and what I suspect he’ll always say, is that, yes, there are circumstances in which he could envision the deployment of U.S. troops.That’s true everywhere, by the way.That’s his job, is to think about various contingencies.And, yes, there are always circumstances in which the United States might need to deploy U.S. ground troops.

If we discovered that ISIL had gotten possession of a nuclear weapon, and we had to run an operation to get it out of their hands, then, yes, you can anticipate that not only would Chairman Dempsey recommend me sending U.S. ground troops to get that weapon out of their hands, but I would order it.So the question just ends up being, what are those circumstances.I’m not going speculate on those.Right now we’re moving forward in conjunction with outstanding allies like Australia in training Iraqi security forces to do their job on the ground.

Q — your thinking on that has not changed?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:My thinking has not changed currently.

Ed Henry of Fox.

Q Thank you.One question, I promise.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:That’s great.(Laughter.)

Q At your Burma town hall a couple days ago you tried to inspire young leaders by saying governments need to be held accountable and be responsive to the people.I wonder how you square that with your former advisor, Jonathan Gruber, claiming you were not transparent about the health law?Because in his words, the American people, the voters are stupid.Did you mislead Americans about the taxes, about keeping your plan, in order to get the bill passed?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No, I did not.I just heard about this.I get well briefed before I come out here.The fact that some advisor who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters, is no reflection on the actual process that was run.

We had a year-long debate, Ed.I mean, go back and look at your stories.The one thing we can’t say is that we did not have a lengthy debate about health care in the United States of America, or that it was not adequately covered.I mean, I would just advise all of — every press outlet here:Go back and pull up every clip, every story, and I think it’s fair to say that there was not a provision in the health care law that was not extensively debated and was fully transparent.

Now, there were folks who disagreed with some of these various positions.It was a tough debate.But the good news is — and I know this wasn’t part of your question — but since some folks back home who don’t have health insurance may be watching, open enrollment just started, which means that those who did not take advantage of the marketplaces the first time around, they’ve got another chance to sign up for affordable health care; they may be eligible for a tax credit.

So far, there were over half a million successful logins on the first day.Healthcare.gov works really well now — 1.2 million people using the window-shopping function since Sunday.There were 23,000 applications completed in just the first eight hours, and tens of thousands more throughout the day.

Health care is working.More than 10 million people have already gotten health insurance; millions more are eligible.And contrary to some of the predictions of the naysayers, not only is the program working, but we’ve actually seen health care inflation lower than it’s been in 50 years, which is contributing to us reducing the deficit, and has the effect of making premiums for families lower that they otherwise would have been if they have health insurance.

All right?Kristen Welker.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.I’d like to ask you again about Syria.When you were recently asked about the U.S. campaign against ISIS, you said, “It’s too early to say whether we are winning.”You went on to say, “This is going to be a long-term plan.”There are now reports that you have ordered a review of your entire Syria policy.So I’d like to put the question to you today:Are you currently recalibrating your policy in Syria?And does that include plans to remove President Bashar al-Assad?And was it a miscalculation not to focus on the removal of Assad initially?Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:We have a weekly meeting with my CENTCOM Commander, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, with all our diplomatic personnel related to the region, as well as my national security team, and Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, intelligence teams, to assess what kind of progress are we making both in Iraq and in Syria with respect to ISIL.And I will be having weekly meetings as long as this campaign lasts, because I think it’s very important for us to get it right.

We have not had a comprehensive review of Syria.We’ve had a comprehensive review of what are we doing each and every week — what’s working, what’s not.Some of it is very detailed at the tactical level.Some of it is conceptual.We continue to learn about ISIL — where its weaknesses are; how we can more effectively put pressure on them.And so nothing extraordinary, nothing formal of the sort that you describe has taken place.

Certainly no changes have taken place with respect to our attitude towards Bashar al-Assad.And I’ve said this before, but let me reiterate:Assad has ruthlessly murdered hundreds of thousands of his citizens, and as a consequence has completely lost legitimacy with the majority of the country.For us to then make common cause with him against ISIL would only turn more Sunnis in Syria in the direction of supporting ISIL, and would weaken our coalition that sends a message around the region this is not a fight against Sunni Islam, this is a fight against extremists of any stripe who are willing to behead innocent people or kill children, or mow down political prisoners with the kind of wanton cruelty that I think we’ve very rarely seen in the modern age.

And so we have communicated to the Syrian regime that when we operate going after ISIL in their air space, that they would be well-advised not to take us on.But beyond that, there’s no expectation that we are going to in some ways enter an alliance with Assad.He is not credible in that country.
Now, we are looking for a political solution eventually within Syria that is inclusive of all the groups who live there — the Alawite, the Sunni, Christians.And at some point, the people of Syria and the various players involved, as well as the regional players — Turkey, Iran, Assad’s patrons like Russia — are going to have to engage in a political conversation.

And it’s the nature of diplomacy in any time, certainly in this situation, where you end up having diplomatic conversations potentially with people that you don’t like and regimes that you don’t like.But we’re not even close to being at that stage yet.

Q But just to put a fine point on it — are you actively discussing ways to remove him as a part of that political transition?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No.

Major Garrett.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.As you well know, the continuing resolution expires on December 11th.Many things you’ve talked about on this trip are related to that:funding for coalition operations in Iraq and Syria, the Ebola outbreak, not to mention day-to-day government operations.What are the odds the country will see itself in a shutdown scenario?How much do you fear the government will shut down?And to what degree does your anxiety about this or your team’s anxiety about this influence the timing of your decision on immigration and executive action?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:I take Mitch McConnell at his word when he says that the government is not going to shut down.There is no reason for it to shut down.We traveled down that path before.It was bad for the country, it was bad for every elected official in Washington.And at the end of the day, it was resolved in the same way that it would have been resolved if we hadn’t shut the government down.So that’s not going to be productive, and I think that Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner understand that.

But this goes to a broader point that I’ve made previously and I’ll just reiterate:It is in the nature of democracy that the parties are going to disagree on certain issues.And in our system, because we don’t have a parliamentary system, it means that you can have a Congress of one party and a President of another, and they disagree on some really fundamental issues.And the question then is, how do you deal with that?Well, the sensible way to deal with it is to say here are the issues we don’t agree on, and we’ll fight like heck for our position and then we’ll work together on the issues that we do agree on.And that’s how it’s always been; that’s how it was with Ronald Reagan when he was dealing with a Democratic Congress.There was no — at no point did the Democrats say, well, because we don’t agree with Ronald Reagan on X,Y,Z issue, then we can’t work with him on Social Security reform or tax reform or other issues.He said, okay, we’ll fight on that, we’ll join together on that, and as a consequence the co
ntry will make progress.

And I would expect that same attitude in this instance.I understand that there are members of the Republican Party who deeply disagree with me and law enforcement and the evangelical community and a number of their own Republican colleagues about the need for immigration reform, I get that.And they’ve made their views clear and there’s nothing wrong with them arguing their position and opposing legislation.But why they would then decide we’re going to shut down the government makes about as much sense as my decision to shut down the government if they decide to take a vote to repeal health care reform for the — is it 53rd or 55th time?I mean, I understand that there’s a difference there, but let’s keep on doing the people’s business.

Q Does the shutdown anxiety in any way affect your timing at all on immigration action?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No, I think the main concern I have is making sure that we get it right, and that’s what we’re focused on at this point, because any executive action that I take is going to require some adjustments to how DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, operates where it’s deploying resources, et cetera; how are folks processed; what priorities are set up.And so I want to make sure that we’ve crossed all our T’s and dotted all our I’s — that that’s my main priority.

And we are going to close with Jim Avila.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.Following up on immigration — in 2010, when asked by immigration reform advocates to stop deportations and act alone on providing legal status for the undocumented, you said, “I’m President, I’m not king.I can’t do these things just by myself.”In 2013, you said, “I’m not the emperor of the United States.My job is to execute laws that are passed.”Mr. President, what has changed since then?And since you’ve now had a chance to talk since July with your legal advisors, what do you now believe are your limits so that you can continue to act as President and not as emperor or king?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Well, actually, my position hasn’t changed.When I was talking to the advocates, their interest was in me, through executive action, duplicating the legislation that was stalled in Congress.And getting a comprehensive deal of the sort that is in the Senate legislation, for example, does extend beyond my legal authorities.There are certain things I cannot do.There are certain limits to what falls within the realm of prosecutorial discretion in terms of how we apply existing immigration laws.

And what we’ve continued to do is to talk to Office of Legal Counsel that’s responsible for telling us what the rules are, what the scope of our operations are, and determining where it is appropriate for us to say we’re not going to deport 11 million people.On the other hand, we’ve got severe resource constraints right now at the border not in apprehending people, but in processing and having enough immigration judges and so forth.And so what’s within our authority to do in reallocating resources and reprioritizing since we can’t do everything.And it’s on that basis that I’ll be making a decision about any executive actions that I might take.

I will repeat what I have said before:There is a very simple solution to this perception that somehow I’m exercising too much executive authority.Pass a bill I can sign on this issue.If Congress passes a law that solves our border problems, improves our legal immigration system, and provides a pathway for the 11 million people who are here working in our kitchens, working in farms, making beds in hotels, everybody knows they’re there, we’re not going to deport all of them.We’d like to see them being able, out in the open, to pay their taxes, pay a penalty, get right with the law.Give me a bill that addresses those issues — I’ll be the first one to sign it and, metaphorically, I’ll crumple up whatever executive actions that we take and we’ll toss them in the wastebasket, because we will now have a law that addresses these issues.

Q But in those five months, sir, since you said you were going to act, have you received the legal advice from the Attorney General about what limits you have -–

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Yes.

Q — and what you can do?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Yes.

Q And would you tell us what those are?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No.(Laughter.)I will tell them when I make the announcement.But it’s a good try, though.That was a good angle.(Laughter.)Jim and I go way back, although he was famous, I was not.He used to be a broadcaster in Chicago, so I used to watch him on TV.You’ve aged a little better than I have.(Laughter.)

All right.The people of Australia, thank you again for your wonderful hospitality.(Applause.)

END
4:51 P.M. AEST

Political Musings October 29, 2014: US-Israel crisis reactions: Obama official calls Netanyahu coward, chickenshit

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

US-Israel crisis reactions: Obama official calls Netanyahu coward, chickenshit

By Bonnie K. Goodman

United States Israel relations have gone downhill fast. At the beginning of the month, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a friendly meeting at the White House, but in four weeks, the fragile personal relationship has…READ MORE

Full Text Political Transcripts October 22, 2014: Speaker of the House John Boehner’s Statement on the Attacks at Canada’s Parliament Hill

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Canadian Political Headlines October 22, 2014: Live Blog: Canadian parliament in lockdown after shooting — Timeline

CANADIAN POLITICAL HEADLINES

POLITICAL HEADLINES

Canadian parliament in lockdown after shooting

Source: UK Telegraph, 10-22-14

Shooter reported to have been killed after opening fire at National War Memorial and bursting into Parliament…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency October 22, 2014: Readout of US President Barack Obama’s Call to Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada — Transcript

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Readout of US President Barack Obama’s Call to Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada

Source: WH, 10-22-14 

President Obama spoke by phone with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to express the American people’s solidarity with Canada in the wake of attacks on Canadian Forces in Quebec on October 20 and in Ottawa on October 22. President Obama condemned these outrageous attacks, reaffirmed the close friendship and alliance between our people. The President offered any assistance Canada needed in responding to these attacks. Prime Minister Harper thanked the President and the two leaders discussed the assault and agreed to continue coordination between our governments moving forward.

Full Text Obama Presidency October 22, 2014: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s Statement on the Tragic Shootings in Ottawa, Canada at Parliament Hill — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

On the Tragic Shootings in Ottawa, Canada

Source: WH, 10-22-14

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made the following statement in response to the shootings in Ottawa, Canada this morning, when a Canadian soldier was shot in the wake of another attack in Quebec earlier this week:

“The thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House go out to the families of those who were affected by today’s shooting in Canada, as well as to the family of the soldier who was killed earlier this week. The President was briefed earlier today in the Oval Office by his top homeland security advisor, Lisa Monaco. The details about the nature of this event are still sketchy, which is not unusual in a chaotic situation like this one.

“Canada is one of the closest friends and allies of the United States. And from issues ranging from the strength of our NATO alliance, to the Ebola response, to dealing with ISIL, there’s a strong partnership and friendship and alliance between the United States and Canada. The United States strongly values that relationship, and that relationship makes the citizens of this country safer.

“Officials inside the U.S. government have been in close touch with their Canadian counterparts today to offer assistance. That includes officials here in the White House. We have been in touch with the Canadians about arranging a phone call between the President and Prime Minister Harper, at the Prime Minister’s earliest convenience.”

Political Musings October 19, 2014: Obama rules out West Africa Congressionally supported travel ban over Ebola

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama rules out West Africa Congressionally supported travel ban over Ebola

By Bonnie K. Goodman

This past week as the Ebola was spreading in health care workers who treated Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, and the Obama Administration, and the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) responses where criticized, President Barack Obama…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency October 8, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the Pentagon on the Fight Against ISIS and Ebola Crisis — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the Pentagon

Source: WH, 10-8-14

The Pentagon
Washington, D.C.

4:20 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I want to thank Secretary Hagel, Deputy Secretary Work, Chairman Dempsey, Vice Chairman Winnefeld, and all the outstanding leaders who are here today.  This is a periodic check-in that I have with not only our service commander but also our COCOMs.  And I thought, although usually we do this over the White House, now was a good time for me to come over to the Pentagon and have an opportunity to hear from our top military about the work that they’re doing.

And I’ve said this before and I want to repeat:  We put enormous burdens and enormous strains on our men and women of the armed forces, and each and every time, the members of our armed services, our troops perform in exemplary fashion.  I think at a time when there’s so much turbulence in the world, never during my presidency has it become more apparent how good our military is, but also how they can tackle a wide range of problems and not just a narrow set of problems.  It’s not just the finest military in the history of the world, it’s also just one of the best organizations we’ve ever seen at doing a whole bunch of different stuff.

And so I expressed my gratitude to the leadership, but also asked them to express to those under their command the thanks of the American people.

We had an opportunity to talk about ISIL and the campaign there.  After this meeting, we’ll have a National Security Council meeting in which General Lloyd Austin, who’s leading Central Command, will further brief us on the progress that’s been made by the coalition there.

Our strikes continue alongside our partners.  It remains a difficult mission.  As I’ve indicated from the start, this is not something that is going to be solved overnight.  The good news is, is that there is a broad-based consensus not just in the region but among nations of the world that ISIL is a threat to world peace, security and order, that their barbaric behavior has to be dealt with.  And we’re confident that we will be able to continue to make progress in partnership with the Iraqi government, because ultimately it’s going to be important for them to be able to, with our help, secure their own country and to find the kind of political accommodations that are necessary for long-term prosperity in the region.

We had a chance to talk about the fight against Ebola, and I got a briefing from General Rodriguez.  Our military is essentially building an infrastructure that does not exist in order to facilitate the transport of personnel and equipment and supplies to deal with this deadly epidemic and disease.  And we are doing it in a way that ensures our men and women in uniform are safe.  That has been my top priority, and I’ve instructed folks we’re not going to compromise the health and safety of our armed services.

But what’s true is, we have unique capabilities that nobody else has.  And as a consequence of us getting in early and building that platform, we’re now able to leverage resources from other countries and move with speed and effectiveness to curb that epidemic.

We had a discussion about global security generally, including the work that, with General Breedlove, we’re doing at NATO to mobilize Europe around the increased threats posed by Russian aggression in Ukraine and against some of its neighbors. We had a very successful meeting in Wales that showed the commitment from all 28 NATO countries to redouble the reassurance they can provide to frontline states to invest further in the joint capabilities that are necessary.  And I very much appreciate the leadership that General Breedlove has shown on that front.

And I got a chance to get a briefing from Admiral Locklear of the Pacific Command about the ongoing both challenges and opportunities in the Pacific.  It’s been noted that our alliances in that area have never been stronger.  We are very much welcomed as a Pacific power in the region.  And our ability to continue to maintain a presence that ensures freedom of navigation, that international law is observed is going to be critically important.  And we need to do that in a way that also reflects our interest in cooperation and effective communication with China, which obviously is a major player in the region.

But the anchor of our presence there, our treaties and alliances with key countries like South Korea and Japan, obviously remain critically important.  And thanks to the work of some of the gentlemen sitting around this table and their staffs, those alliances have never been in better shape.

Finally, we had a chance to talk briefly about defense budget and reforms.  We have done some enormous work, and I want to thank everybody sitting around this table to continue to make our forces leaner, meaner, more effective, more tailored to the particular challenges that we’re going to face in the 21st century.

But we also have to make sure that Congress is working with us to avoid, for example, some of the Draconian cuts that are called for in sequestration, and to make sure that if we’re asking this much of our armed forces, that they’ve got the equipment and the technology that’s necessary for them to be able to succeed at their mission, and that we’re supporting their families at a time when, even after ending one war and winding down another, they continue to have enormous demands placed on them each and every day.

So I want to thank everybody around this table.  A special thank-you to General Austin for the enormous amount of work that’s been done by CENTCOM in what is a very challenging situation.  We very much appreciate him.  I want to thank General Rodriguez for the great work in standing up our operations in West Africa.

And finally, I want to say publicly a hearty thank you to Jim Amos, who somewhere between eight to 10 days from now — (laughter) — will be retiring from his command.  He is the 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps, the first aviator to command our Marine Corps.  I know that he could not be prouder of the men and women under his command.  They continue to make us proud.  They certainly make him proud.  We want to thank him and Mrs. Amos and the entire family for the great service that they’ve rendered to our country.

So thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END4:29 P.M. EDT

Political Musings October 8, 2014: Netanyahu, Obama Administration fight over Jerusalem building, American values

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Netanyahu, Obama Administration fight over Jerusalem building, American values

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s friendly White House meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 was too good to be true considering their track record. It was not destined to last long, within hours Obama…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency October 6, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks After Meeting on Ebola Announcing Airport Screening — Transcript

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President After Meeting on Ebola

Source: WH, 10-6-14 

Roosevelt Room

4:04 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I just had an opportunity to get a full briefing from my entire team across administrations — across agencies on the aggressive steps that we are taking to fight the Ebola epidemic, to stop the epidemic at its source in West Africa but also to make sure that we are doing everything we need to do to prevent an outbreak here in the United States.

As I’ve said from the start of this outbreak, I consider this a top national security priority.  This is not just a matter of charity — although obviously the humanitarian toll in countries that are affected in West Africa is extraordinarily significant.  This is an issue about our safety.  It is also an issue with respect to the political stability and the economic stability in this region.

And so it is very important for us to make sure that we are treating this the same way that we would treat any other significant national security threat.  And that’s why we’ve got an all-hands-on-deck approach — from DOD to public health to our development assistance, our science teams — everybody is putting in time and effort to make sure that we are addressing this as aggressively as possible.

I know that the American people are concerned about the possibility of an Ebola outbreak, and Ebola is a very serious disease.  And the ability of people who are infected who could carry that across borders is something that we have to take extremely seriously.  At the same time, it is important for Americans to know the facts, and that is that because of the measures that we’ve put in place, as well as our world-class health system and the nature of the Ebola virus itself — which is difficult to transmit — the chances of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is extremely low.

Procedures are now in place to rapidly evaluate anybody who might be showing symptoms.  We saw that with the response of the airplane in Newark and how several hospitals across the United States have been testing for possible cases.  In recent months we’ve had thousands of travelers arriving here from West Africa, and so far only one case of Ebola has been diagnosed in the United States, and that’s the patient in Dallas.  Our prayers are obviously with him and his family.

We have learned some lessons, though, in terms of what happened in Dallas.  We don’t have a lot of margin for error.  The procedures and protocols that are put in place must be followed.  One of the things that we discussed today was how we could make sure that we’re spreading the word across hospitals, clinics, any place where a patient might first come in contact with a medical worker to make sure that they know what to look out for, and they’re putting in place the protocols and following those protocols strictly.  And so we’re going to be reaching out not only to governors and mayors and public health officials in states all across the country, but we want to continue to figure out how we can get the word out everywhere so that everybody understands exactly what is needed to be done.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, we’re constantly reviewing and evaluating the measures that we already have in place to see if there are additional improvements.  We continue to look at any additional steps that can be taken to make sure that the American people are safe, which is our highest priority.

And finally, we had a discussion about what we’re doing on site in West Africa.  There’s been already extraordinary work done by the Department of Defense in conjunction with the CDC in standing up isolation units and hospital beds.  We are making progress.  The environment is difficult because the public health system there has very few resources and is already extraordinarily fragile.

And I’ll be very honest with you — although we have seen great interest on the part of the international community, we have not seen other countries step up as aggressively as they need to.  And I said at the United Nations, and I will repeat, that this is an area where everybody has to chip in and everybody has to move quickly in order for us to get this under control.  Countries that think that they can sit on the sidelines and just let the United States do it, that will result in a less effective response, a less speedy response, and that means that people die, and it also means that the potential spread of the disease beyond these areas in West Africa becomes more imminent.

So I’m going to be putting a lot of pressure on my fellow heads of state and government around the world to make sure that they are doing everything that they can to join us in this effort.  We’ve got some small countries that are punching above their weight on this, but we’ve got some large countries that aren’t doing enough.  And we want to make sure that they understand that this is not a disease that’s going to discriminate, and this is something that all of us have to be involved in.

So the bottom line is, is that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure, number one, that the American people are safe; I’m confident that we’re going to be able to do that.  But we’re also going to need to make sure that we stop this epidemic at its source.  And we’re profoundly grateful to all our personnel — our medical personnel, our development personnel, our military personnel who are serving in this effort.  It’s because of their professionalism, their dedication and their skill that we are going to be able to get this under control, but this is a faraway place, with roads that in many cases are impassable, areas that don’t have even one hospital.  We’re having to stand up, essentially, a public health infrastructure in many of these areas that haven’t had it before, and that requires an enormous amount of effort.

I’m very grateful for the people who are on the front lines making this work.  It’s a reminder once again of American leadership.  But even with all the dedicated effort that our American personnel are putting in, there are going to be — they need to be joined by professionals from other countries who are putting up similar effort and similar resources.  And so I hope they’re going to be paying attention over the next several weeks so we can get on top of this.

Thank you.

Q    What do you say to the American people who remain nervous in spite of your assurances?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I just explained to them that the nature of this disease — the good news is, is that it’s not an airborne disease.  We are familiar with the protocols that are needed to isolate and greatly reduce the risks of anybody catching this disease, but it requires us to follow those protocols strictly, and that’s exactly what we are in the process of doing.  And the CDC is familiar with dealing with infectious diseases and viruses like this.  We know what has to be done and we’ve got the medical infrastructure to do it.  But this is an extraordinarily virulent disease when you don’t follow the protocols.

And so the key here is just to make sure that each step along the way — whether it’s a hospital admissions desk, whether it is the doctors, the nurses, public health officials — that everybody has the right information.  If they have the right information and they’re following those protocols, then this is something that we’re going to be able to make sure does not have the kind of impact here in the United States that a lot of people are worried about.  But that requires everybody to make sure that they stay informed.  Most particularly, we’ve got to make sure that our health workers are informed.

We’re also going to be working on protocols to do additional passenger screening, both at the source and here in the United States.  All of these things make me confident that here in the United States, at least, the chances of an outbreak, of an epidemic here are extraordinarily low.

But let’s keep in mind that, as we speak, there are children on the streets dying of this disease — thousands of them.  And so obviously my first job is to make sure that we’re taking care of the American people, but we have a larger role than that.  We also have an obligation to make sure that those children and their families are safe as well, because ultimately the best thing we can do for our public health is also to extend the kind of empathy, compassion and effort so that folks in those countries as well can be rid of this disease.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Q    Are you looking to the private sector –

THE PRESIDENT:  A lot of volunteering.  Thank you, everybody.

END
4:15 P.M. EDT

Political Musings October 3, 2014: Is Texas Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan a terrorist, criminal or victim?

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Is Texas Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan a terrorist, criminal or victim?

By Bonnie K. Goodman

After the Center for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the first case of Ebola on United States soil on Tuesday evening, Sept. 30, 2014, slowly the picture is getting clearer about the circumstance around the case and the dangers it poses…READ MORE

Political Musings October 1, 2014: Obama, Netanyahu discuss Iran, Palestinians in friendlier White House meeting

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama, Netanyahu discuss Iran, Palestinians in friendlier White House meeting

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In a meeting at the White House on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 that was less acrimonious than their last, President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office. For Netanyahu the most important part…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency October 1, 2014: President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Remarks Before Bilateral Meeting — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel Before Bilateral Meeting

Source: WH, 10-1-14

Oval Office

11:23 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, it’s good once again to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu.  Obviously, he’s no stranger to the White House.  I think I’ve met with Bibi more than any world leader during my tenure as President.

We meet at a challenging time.  Israel is obviously in a very turbulent neighborhood, and this gives us an opportunity once again to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and our ironclad commitment to making sure that Israel is secure.

Throughout the summer, obviously all of us were deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza.  I think the American people should be very proud of the contributions that we made to the Iron Dome program to protect the lives of Israelis at a time when rockets were pouring into Israel on a regular basis.  I think we also recognize that we have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes and schoolchildren in their schools from the possibility of rocket fire, but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.

And so we’ll discuss extensively both the situation of rebuilding Gaza but also how can we find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Our agenda will be broader than that, obviously.  I’ll debrief Bibi on the work that we’re doing to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and the broader agenda that I discussed at the United Nations, which is mobilizing a coalition not only for military action, but also to bring about a shift in Arab states and Muslim countries that isolate the cancer of violent extremism that is so pernicious and ultimately has killed more Muslims than anything else.

And we’ll also have an opportunity to discuss the progress that’s being made with respect to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which obviously has been a high priority for not only Israel, but also the United States and the world community.

So we have a lot to talk about, and I appreciate very much the Prime Minister coming.  It’s challenging I think for an Israeli Prime Minister to have to work so hard during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I know that the Prime Minister’s utmost priority is making sure that his country is safe during these difficult times.  And we’re glad that the United States can be a partner in that process.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. President, first I want to thank you.  I want to thank you for the unflinching support you gave Israel during our difficult days and difficult summer we had — expressed in so many ways, but also in an additional installment of support for Iron Dome, which has saved so many lives, saved many lives across the border.  And I thank you for that, and for the continuous bond of friendship that is so strong between Israel and the United States.

I also want to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you and to discuss the enormous challenges facing the United States and Israel in the Middle East.  There’s definitely a new Middle East.  I think it poses new dangers, but it also presents new opportunities.

As for the dangers, Israel fully supports your effort and your leadership to defeat ISIS.  We think everybody should support this.  And even more critical is our shared goal of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power.

As you know, Mr. President, Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power.  I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen.

Equally, I think that there are opportunities.  And the opportunities, as you just expressed, is something that is changing in the Middle East, because out of the new situation, there emerges a commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states.  And I think that we should work very hard together to seize on those common interests and build a positive program to advance a more secure, more prosperous and a more peaceful Middle East.

I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock solid security arrangements on the ground.  And I believe we should make use of the new opportunities, think outside the box, see how we can recruit the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda.  And I look forward to our discussions on these and many other matters.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.

END
11:29 A.M. EDT

Political Musings September 30, 2014: Netanyahu in powerful UN address equates ISIS with Hamas, Iran greatest threat

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Netanyahu in powerful UN address equates ISIS with Hamas, Iran greatest threat

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promise to “refute all of the lies being directed at us” when he boarded his flight to New York on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, and when he delivered his address to…READ MORE

Political Musings September 29, 2014: Obama on 60 minutes acknowledges administration underestimated ISIS threat

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama on 60 minutes acknowledges administration underestimated ISIS threat

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama admitted 2014 that his administration underestimated the threat of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in a CBS’ ’60 Minutes’ interview with Steve Kroft that was taped on Friday, Sept. 26, 2014…READ MORE

Political Musings September 28, 2014: Boehner wants Congress to vote on ground troops in war against ISIS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Full Text Obama Presidency September 26, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Open Government Partnership Meeting — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama at Open Government Partnership Meeting

Source: WH, 9-24-14

United Nations Building
New York City, New York

5:35 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, thank you very much.  And thank you, Rakesh, for your introduction.  It is wonderful to see all of you here today.  I still remember your eloquent words when we launched this effort three years ago, and I’m very grateful for the role you’ve played and NGOs have played, and all the leadership that is represented here has played in making this a reality — which is making a real difference in the lives of so many countries that are participating.

I want to thank my good friend, President Yudhoyono, for your leadership and the example that Indonesia has tried to set as a country that has transitioned from a difficult past to a full-blown democracy.  And I also want to thank Minister Kuntoro for hosting us here today.  Both of them have shown extraordinary leadership in this partnership over the past several years.

President Yudhoyono will be — this will be the last time I think that we see each other in his official capacity, but not in terms of our friendship.  And I think that it’s fitting that he’s participating here today and leading it, because it reflects the legacy of his work.  And I also want to acknowledge my dear friend, President Peña Nieto of Mexico, as well as President Zuma of South Africa, who have agreed to lead the partnership in the coming year.

I’m thrilled to see so many leaders from civil society — men and women who stand up for equality and opportunity and justice and freedom every single day.  And it’s not always easy to do.  Yesterday, I had a chance to speak about the importance of supporting civil society across the globe — because throughout history, progress has always been driven by citizens who have the courage to raise their voices, and imagine not just what is but what might be, and that are willing to work to bring about the change that they seek.

Three years ago, the United States and seven other nations launched this Open Government Partnership to represent the other side of that equation — because when citizens demand progress, governments need to be able to respond.  And in a new millennium flush with technology that allows us to connect with a tweet or a text, citizens rightly demand more responsiveness, more openness, more transparency, more accountability from their governments.

In just three short years, this partnership has grown from eight nations to 64.  It has helped to transform the way governments serve their citizens.  Together, we have made more than 2,000 commitments — improving how governments serve more than 2 billion people worldwide.  More citizens are petitioning their governments online, and more citizens are participating directly in policymaking.  More entrepreneurs are using open data to innovate and start new businesses.  More sunlight is shining on how tax dollars are spent.  And more governments are partnering with civil society to find new ways to expose corruption and improve good governance.

Here in the United States, we’ve been trying to lead by example.  We’re working to open up and share more data with entrepreneurs so they can pursue the new innovations and businesses that create jobs.  We’re working to modernize our Freedom of Information Act process so that it’s easier for Americans to use, so that they can see the workings of their government.  And today, I’m proud to announce a series of new commitments to expand and broaden our open government efforts.

We’re going to work more closely with the health care sector and state and local law enforcement — not just to improve public health and safety, but to better protect the privacy and personal information of the American people.  We’re going to improve transparency with our upgraded website, USAspending.gov, to make it easier for Americans to access and understand how the federal government spends their tax dollars.

We’re going to collaborate more closely with the private sector and the best minds in our country so that when we design websites or technologies to better serve the public, we’re benefitting from the best of American ingenuity and the latest technologies.  And because we know that education is a cornerstone for progress — if we want good governance, we need an educated and informed citizenry — we’re going to do more to help people in other countries, especially students, access the incredible online educational tools and resources that we have here in the States.

In addition, as part of our leadership in the global fight against corruption, we intend to partner with American businesses to develop a national plan to promote responsible and transparent business conduct overseas.  We already have laws in place; they’re significantly stronger than the laws of many other countries.  But we think we can do better.  And we think that ultimately it will be good for everybody, including business.  Because when they know there’s a rule of law, when they don’t have to pay a bribe to ship their goods or to finalize a contract, that means they’re more likely to invest, and that means more jobs and prosperity for everybody.

As we look ahead, I believe that continuing this global fight against corruption has to remain a central focus in this partnership.  It’s an area where we can expand our efforts. Corruption is not simply immoral.  From a practical perspective, it siphons off billions of dollars from the public and private sectors that could be used to feed children or build schools, or build infrastructure that promotes development.  It also promotes economic inequality.  It facilitates human rights abuses.  It fuels organized crime, and terrorism, and ultimately instability.

Passing anti-corruption laws is necessary — and then those laws have to be enforced, so that those who steal from their people are held accountable, and so citizens have faith that the system is not rigged and that justice will be done.  We need to do more to track down the proceeds of corruption and prevent our legal and financial systems from becoming safe havens for money gained through bribes or fraud.  And we need to do more to ensure transparency and accountability in industries that can be especially vulnerable to corruption, such as the extraction of natural resources.  That’s not just good for businesses, it helps support development in countries that depend on these industries for growth and for jobs.

In all of these efforts as governments, we’re going to have to deepen our partnerships with civil society.  As I announced yesterday, I’ve directed the U.S. government to elevate its engagement with civil society groups around the world.  After all, the Open Government Partnership is not simply a partnership between governments; it’s between governments and their citizens.  At times, this can be frustrating.  At times, it can be contentious.  I think it’s fair to say that all governments think they’re doing what’s right, and don’t like criticism.  And it’s shocking to say that not all criticism from civil society is always fair.  But, as leaders, making our governments more open does mean that as a consequence of that criticism, there’s self-reflection.  And it means that questions are asked that might not have otherwise been asked.  And that groupthink doesn’t develop inside of a government, and that people don’t start as easily rationalizing behavior that, if shown in the light of day, people would object to.

As we’ve seen through the leadership of Rakesh and so many others who are here today, open and honest collaboration with citizens and civil society over the long term — no matter how uncomfortable it is — makes countries stronger and it makes countries more successful, and it creates more prosperous economies, and more just societies, and more opportunity for citizens.

So the achievements of these first three years are an example of the kind of steady, step-by-step progress that is possible for people and countries around the world.  No country has all the answers.  No country has perfect practices.  So we have to continue to find new ways to learn from each other, to share best practices, and most importantly, to turn the commitments that we’ve made into real and meaningful action that improves the daily lives of our citizens.  I’m confident that if we do that, we can ensure that we’re living up to the basic truth that governments exist to serve the people, and not the other way around.

Let me just close by saying this:  When we started this, we didn’t know if it was going to work.  And I could not be more proud to see the enormous changes that are taking place all around the globe — in small increments sometimes.  It’s not flashy.  It doesn’t generate a lot of headlines.  But the work you’re doing here is a steady wave of better government, and a steady wave of stronger civil societies.  And over time, that means that not only will individual countries be stronger, and not only will the citizens of those countries have greater opportunity and are less prone to experience injustice, but that translates into a world that is more just and more fair.  And that’s the kind of world that I want to leave my children.

So congratulations on the good work.  But don’t let up — as I’m sure you won’t, because I know some of you.  (Laughter.)  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
5:45 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 26, 2014: Vice President Joe Biden’s Speech at at the UN Summit on Peacekeeping Operations — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Opening Remarks by the Vice President at the UN Summit on Peacekeeping Operations

Source: WH, 9-26-14

The United Nations
New York, New York

10:43 A.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Welcome.  And welcome to my co-hosts — the Secretary General, the President of Rwanda, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the Prime Minister of Japan, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and all the assembled leaders, ministers, ambassadors and distinguished guests.  And as we say in the body I used to work in, the United States Senate, if you could excuse the point of personal privilege, I’d like to welcome my colleague, Senator Coons, who represents my home constituency.  So I want to be able to go back home.  (Laughter.)

We meet at a moment when the demand for international peacekeeping has never been greater.  In one generation, U.N. peacekeeping has grown tenfold, to about 120,000 men and women deployed around the world.

And as the nature of conflict and combatants has evolved —  to include sophisticated non-state actors as well as traditional armies -— the instruments of peacekeeping have evolved as well.

Today, we ask peacekeepers to protect civilians in South Sudan and the Central African Republic; to prevent sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and to help with the peace process in Mali, amid deadly attacks by extremists -— even as we continue to monitor longstanding ceasefires on three continents.

When we ask them to do more than ever, that is the peacekeepers, in even more difficult and more dangerous environments, we owe them more.  The result is that peacekeeping is under greater strain than it ever has been.  And I should say — and I’m sure I speak for everyone — we are grateful for the burdens peacekeepers have carried, and we honor the sacrifices that they have made.

But, today, we gather to offer more than just words of support.  Together, our nations are here to offer resources, troops, police, and more for these missions.  We have to meet the peacekeeping challenges today.  We also have to look ahead what they’re going to be tomorrow; and we have to do it together.

The United States will do its part.  Last month, President Obama launched the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, a new commitment of $110 million dollars per year for the next three to five years to help six African partners build their capacity to rapidly — and I emphasize rapidly –deploy peacekeepers in emerging crises.  Because rapid deployment, if done rapidly, can save tens of thousands of lives.

We thank the growing coalition, including several leaders here today, who are joining us in support of this initiative.  We think they share the same view, and we thank them for their contributions.

We also will review U.S. contributions to peacekeeping, as well, to assess gaps that the United States is uniquely positioned to fill, like base camps we are building and helping the U.N. build for peacekeepers in the Central African Republic; to better share the U.S. military’s knowledge of confronting asymmetric threats; and to help the U.N. deploy advanced technology.

And we’ll continue to offer support during cases as we did — crises, I should say, as we did after the Haiti earthquake, and as we will be doing in Liberia to help contain the Ebola outbreak.

We are already making contributions, all of us.  But we can and should do more together, and we can do it, in our view, more effectively.  That’s why the United States, Mr. Secretary General, welcomes the comprehensive review of peacekeeping operations that you have put forward.

This is a chance not only to make commitments, but to think strategically together about future peacekeeping needs and related missions.  My guess is — and I’ve been in this business a long time — had we met in the same fora 20 years ago, no one would be anticipating the type — have anticipated the type of peacekeeping operations from non-state actors that we’re engaged with.  So when I say think strategically, we have to think ahead, as well.

And as to what kind of missions are going to be required in the future; what will be required to deploy them — these missions — rapidly and ensure they perform effectively; working in partnership with the African Union, NATO, and the European Union, and other organizations, we can do that.  And we owe the United Nations our best and boldest thinking.

So the truth is the very fact that peacekeeping exists, that men and women sometimes from halfway around the world risk their lives to protect peace on the fault lines of conflict is one of the great achievements of this international system.  Working together I’m confident we can strengthen that system and meet the challenges ahead.

And with that, let me now turn to His Excellency, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

END
10:50 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 26, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Global Health Security Agenda Summit about Ebola Outbreak — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Global Health Security Agenda Summit

Source: WH, 9-26-14

South Court Auditorium

11:51 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  Welcome to the White House.  Thank you for being here.  I want to welcome members of Congress, leaders from across my administration, and our friends and partners — leaders in public health not just from the United States, but from around the world.  Thank you for joining us to advance a cause that touches us all — the health of our people and the security of our nations and of the world.

Today, of course, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West Africa.  And I know that some of you have been there, doing heroic work in the fight against Ebola.  You’ve seen firsthand the tragedy that’s taking place.  In Liberia, in Sierra Leone, in Guinea, people are terrified.  Hospitals, clinics, treatment centers are overwhelmed, leaving people dying on the streets.  Public health systems are near collapse.  And then there are the secondary effects — economic growth is slowing dramatically, governments are being strained.  And if left unchecked, experts predict that hundreds of thousands of people could be killed in a matter of months.

That’s why I’ve told my team that fighting this epidemic is a national security priority for the United States.  It’s why I recently announced a major increase in our efforts.  Our military command in Liberia is now up and running.  We’re standing up an air bridge to move health workers and supplies into West Africa more quickly.  We’re setting up a field hospital, new treatment units, a facility to train thousands of health workers.  So this is an area where the United States has an opportunity to lead, and we’ve been making a major contribution.

But yesterday at the United Nations, I joined with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Dr. Chan and said this has to be a global priority.  Over the last week, culminating yesterday in New York, more countries and organizations have announced significant commitments, including health care workers, and treatment facilities, and financial support.  And today I want to thank, in particular, the government of Japan, which has pledged to provide some 500,000 pieces of ventilated protective gear — head gear, gloves and boots — to help keep health workers safe as they treat patients in the region.

So we’ve got to now keep up this momentum.  This epidemic underscores — vividly and tragically — what we already knew, which is, in a world as interconnected as ours, outbreaks anywhere, even in the most remote villages and the remote corners of the world, have the potential to impact everybody, every nation.

And though this Ebola epidemic is particularly dangerous, we’ve seen deadly diseases cross borders before.  H1N1.  SARS. MERS.  And each time, the world scrambles to coordinate a response.  Each time, it’s been harder than it should be to share information and to contain the outbreak.  As a result, diseases have spread faster and farther than they should have — which means lives are lost that could have been saved.  With all the knowledge, all the medical talent, all the advanced technologies at our disposal, it is unacceptable if, because of lack of preparedness and planning and global coordination, people are dying when they don’t have to.  So we have to do better — especially when we know that outbreaks are going to keep happening.  That’s inevitable.

At the same time, other biological threats have also grown  — from infections that are resistant to antibiotics to terrorists that seek to develop and use biological weapons.  And no nation can meet these challenges on its own.  Nobody is that isolated anymore.  Oceans don’t protect you.  Walls don’t protect you.  And that means all of us, as nations, and as an international community, need to do more to keep our people safe. And that’s why we’re here.

We have to change our mindsets and start thinking about biological threats as the security threats that they are — in addition to being humanitarian threats and economic threats.  We have to bring the same level of commitment and focus to these challenges as we do when meeting around more traditional security issues.

And what I’ve said about the Ebola epidemic is true here as well:  As the nation that has underwritten much of global security for decades, the United States has some capabilities that other nations don’t have.  We can mobilize the world in ways that other nations may not be able to.  And that’s what we’re trying to do on Ebola.  And that’s what we’ll do on the broader challenge of ensuring our global health security.  We will do our part.  We will lead.  We will put resources.  But we cannot do it alone.

That’s why, back in February, before the current Ebola outbreak, we launched this Global Heath Security Agenda, and I pushed this agenda at the G7 meeting, because we could see something like this coming.  And we issued a challenge to ourselves and to all nations of the world to make concrete pledges towards three key goals:  prevent, detect and respond.  We have to prevent outbreaks by reducing risks.  We need to detect threats immediately wherever they arise.  And we need to respond rapidly and effectively when we see something happening so that we can save lives and avert even larger outbreaks.

Now, the good news is today, our nations have begun to answer the call.  Together, our countries have made over 100 commitments both to strengthen our own security and to work with each other to strengthen the security of all countries’ public health systems.  And now, we’ve got to turn those commitments into concrete action -– starting in West Africa.  We’ve got to make sure we never see a tragedy on this scale again, and we have to make sure we’re not caught flat-footed.  Because you know better than I do that not only can we anticipate additional outbreaks, but we also know that viruses in large populations have the opportunity to mutate in ways that could make them even more deadly and spread more rapidly.

So first, we’ll do more to prevent threats and outbreaks.  We’re going to partner with countries to help boost immunization rates to stop the spread of preventable diseases.  We’ll work together to improve biological security so nations can store, transport, and work with dangerous pathogens safely.  Here in the United States, we’re working with our partners to find new ways to stop animal diseases from crossing over into people -– which, of course, is how Ebola started.  And with the executive order I signed last week, we now have a national strategy to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to better protect our children and grandchildren from the reemergence of diseases and infections that the world conquered decades ago.

Second, we’ll do more to detect incidents and outbreaks.  We’ll help hospitals and health workers find ways to share information more quickly as outbreaks occur.  We want to help countries improve their monitoring systems so they can track progress in real time.  And we’ll intensify our efforts to diagnose diseases faster.  And technologies now exist, today, that diagnose many illnesses in minutes.  And one of the things that we need to do is work together to find ways to get those new technologies to market as quickly as possible and distributed as quickly as possible.

In too many places around the world, patients still have to wait sometimes for days to find out if they’re sick, which means that in the meantime, they’re infecting friends and they’re infecting family.  We can do better on that.  So we’re going to keep working to get new technologies to hospitals and health workers who need it so they can diagnose patients quickly and do more to save lives at the earliest stages of disease.

And finally, we’ll do more to respond faster when incidents and outbreaks happen.  The United States will continue to help countries create their own emergency operations centers, with rapid response teams ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.  Just like our military conducts exercises to be ready, we’ll lead more training exercise as well, helping countries stress-test their system and personnel so that in the event of an outbreak or biological attack, they know how to find the source, they know how to mitigate the impact, they know how to save lives.  They can institute best practices that in many advanced countries we take for granted.  Under the CDC, this is their job.  If they find something out, they know how to isolate it rapidly; they know how to conduct the epidemiological studies, and they know what protocols to follow.  Every country has the capacity to do that.  Because a lot of times, it’s not high-tech, doesn’t require huge resources; it does require planning and preparation.

As we’re often seeing in West Africa, often the greatest need in a crisis is personnel who are trained and ready to deploy.  So we’re going to keep working to strengthen the global networks of experts.  When a crisis occurs, there are enough specialists standing by, ready to work.

And today, I’m pleased to announce a new effort to help health workers respond to diseases like Ebola.  As many of you know firsthand, the protective gear that health workers wear can get incredibly hot, especially in humid environments.  So today, we’re issuing a challenge to inventors and entrepreneurs and businesses of the world to design better protective solutions for our health workers. If you design them, we will make them.  We will pay for them.  And our goal is to get them to the field in a matter of months to help the people working in West Africa right now.  I’m confident we can do this.

So here’s the bottom line:  No one should ever have to die for lack of an isolation tent or a treatment bed, as is happening in West Africa.  No community should be left at the mercy of a horrific disease.  No country should be caught by surprise if an outbreak starts to become an epidemic.  We’ve got to act quickly. And we’ve got to meet the commitments that we’re making here today, and track our progress and hold each other accountable.

So you can anticipate that I will be bringing this up with the heads of state and government that you report to.  I especially want to thank the governments of Finland and Indonesia, who’ve agreed to lead this effort going forward.  I want to thank South Korea, which will host this conference next year.  I want to keep the momentum going.

And as we go forward, let’s remember what we’re working toward -– more families, more communities, more nations that are better able to provide for their own health security.  And one thing I want to point out, because all of you have been working in the field for many years and understand these issues far better than I ever will.  Even as we are working on preparedness, understand that the U.S. commitment — and hopefully the world’s commitment — to just building a better public health infrastructure generally remains.  It’s one thing for us to make sure that we can anticipate diseases — identify diseases early and respond to them rapidly.  But as everybody here knows, if the body is strong, if communities are strong, if nations are strong, then their immune systems are a little bit stronger.  And so part of what we will also continue to have to do is make sure that children are well fed, and that they’re getting their immunizations, and that people have opportunity to get out of extreme poverty.  That’s also part of the long-term agenda.

So we have a very narrow, specific issue in terms of how we respond to the potential outbreaks of epidemics like we’re seeing in West Africa.  I don’t want people to think that somehow that distracts us from some of our broader public health goals.  But right now, what we’re focused on today is to make sure that we have the opportunity to succeed in a situation in which success will never actually be seen.  It will be the attacks that we prevented, and the infections that we stopped before they started, and the outbreaks that don’t explode into epidemics.

The scenes we’re seeing in West Africa are heartbreaking and they tear at our conscience.  But even now, in the face of unimaginable suffering, there’s still hope.  There’s hope in people like Dr. Melvin Korkor from Liberia.  I know he shared his story with you earlier here today.  I think it’s important for the world to hear it, for those of you who are just tuning in.

When the Ebola outbreak first began, in a different part of Liberia from where Dr. Korkor lives, he and his colleagues didn’t think they were at risk.  So they kept seeing patients, including some with fevers.  And as many of you know, one of the tricky things about Ebola is sometimes it presents itself early with symptoms that could be malaria or typhoid.  So Dr. Korkor and his colleagues didn’t have enough latex gloves to use on those illnesses -– they saved gloves for things like surgeries.  One of those patients turned out to have Ebola.  A few nurses got sick. After caring for them, Melvin tested positive as well.

He lay in bed surrounded by other patients, forcing himself to eat and drink even though he had no appetite, watching others die.  He fought off despair by reading his Bible and tried to stay calm.  And he says, as he describes it, “I said to myself I was going to make it.”  “I said to myself I was going to make it.”  The days passed.  Doctors and nurses gave him the best comfort and care that they could, and Melvin pulled through.  He survived.  And he says, “It was like being reborn.”  And now, nearly two months after being declared disease free, he’s counting down the days until his hospital reopens and he can get back to work in just a few weeks.

So, Melvin, your story reminds us that this virus can be beaten, because there are strong people, determined people in these countries who are prepared to do what it takes to save their friends and countrymen and families.  But they need a little help.

At this very moment, there are thousands of health workers like Dr. Korkor in West Africa –- on the ground, in cities, neighborhoods, in remote villages, doing everything they can to stop this virus, whatever it takes.  And we have the tools to help them, to save lives.  We have the knowledge and resources –- not just to stop this outbreak, but to prevent something like this from happening again.

It is our moral obligation and it is in our national self-interests to see this work through, to help them, to help ourselves; the commitment to make our nation and our world is more secure, and the determination to work together to protect the lives of people.  We have to be as strong and as determined and as driven as Melvin.

Thank you all for being part of this critical work.  The United States is proud to be your partner.  I’m looking forward to making sure that all these experts here get the support that they need from their leadership.  And hopefully, as a consequence of meetings like this translated into action, we’ll be savings lives for many years to come.

All right.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END
12:10 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 24, 2014: First Lady Michelle Obama’s Speech at the United Nations Global Education First Initiative — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the First Lady at United Nations Global Education First Initiative

Source: WH, 9-24-14 

United Nations
New York, New York

3:37 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Good afternoon.  It is truly a pleasure and an honor to join you today for the third annual Global Education First Initiative event.

Let me start by thanking Chernor for that just touching, very powerful, beautiful introduction.  Let’s give him a round of applause.  That was amazing.  (Applause.)  I do not feel worthy.  But I’m very proud of you and all of the other youth advocates for the tremendous work that you all are doing.  You make me proud.

I also want to recognize Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson; UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova; U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown; and, of course, the GEFI Champion Countries and Partners.

But most of all, I want to thank all of you for your visionary work on global education, particularly on the issue I want to discuss today –- an issue which is the focus of my international work as First Lady of the United States -– and that is providing quality education for girls around the world.

Now, we have made tremendous progress on this issue, particularly on primary education.  Thanks to leaders like all of you, as of 2012, every developing region in the world had achieved, or was close to achieving, gender parity in primary education.  And this is a stunning accomplishment, and we should all be proud of how far we’ve come.

But we shouldn’t be satisfied.  Because while the benefits of primary education are real and meaningful, we know that if we truly want to transform girls’ lives, if we truly want to give them the tools to shape their own destinies, then primary education often just isn’t enough.

We know that if we want girls to marry later, raise healthier children, earn good wages, then we need to send them to school through adolescence.  But we also know that adolescence marks the critical moment when a girl starts to develop from a child into a woman; when she is first subjected to the norms and prejudices that her society holds around gender.  And that is precisely when the issue of quality education truly starts to get hard.

At that point in a girl’s life, it is no longer enough to simply talk about building schools and buying supplies, because when it comes to educating adolescent girls the real challenge isn’t just about resources, it’s about attitudes and beliefs.  It’s about whether fathers and mothers think their daughters are as worthy of an education as their sons.  It’s about whether communities value young women for their minds, or only for the reproductive and labor capacities of their bodies.  It’s also about whether all of us are willing to confront the complex, sensitive issues that keep so many adolescent girls out of school –- issues like early and forced marriage, and genital cutting; issues like domestic violence and human trafficking.

In other words, we cannot talk about quality education for adolescent girls or hope to make meaningful and lasting progress on this issue unless we’re willing to have a much bigger and bolder conversation about how women are viewed and treated in the world today.

Now, as Chernor said, this conversation is deeply personal for me as a woman.  I know that I stand before you today because of the people in my life, particularly the men -– men like my father, grandfathers, uncles who valued me, who invested in me from the day I was born; men who pushed me to succeed in school, insisted that I have the same opportunities as my brother, urging me to find a husband who would treat me as an equal.

The issue of secondary education for girls is also personal to me as a mother.  And I know that’s true for many of you here today as well.  So many of us are parents and grandparents, and who among us would accept our daughters and granddaughters getting only a primary education?  Who among us would accept our precious girls being married off to grown men at the age of 12, becoming pregnant at 13, being unable to support themselves financially, confined to a life of dependence, fear and abuse?

None of us in this room would ever dream of accepting that kind of life for our daughters or granddaughters.  So why would we accept this for any girl in our country, or any girl on this planet?

To answer this question, all of us -– men and women here in this room and around the world –- we must do some serious self-reflection.  We must look inside ourselves and ask, do we truly value women as equals, or do we see them as merely second-class citizens?  We must look around at our societies and ask, are we clinging to laws and traditions that serve only to oppress and exclude, or are we working to become more equal, more free?

These are the very questions we are asking ourselves every day here in the United States.  Because while we’ve made tremendous progress in areas like college graduation rates and workforce participation, women here are still woefully underrepresented in our government and in the senior ranks of our corporations.

We still struggle with violence against women and harmful cultural norms that tell women how they are expected to look and act.  And we still have plenty of work to do here in America to provide a quality education and opportunity for girls and boys, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  But as we consider all the challenges we face in our countries and in countries across the globe, we must also reflect on the tremendous progress we’ve made.

Just think about where we were just 15 years ago on this issue.  Back then, if I had told you that in a little over a decade, we would see nearly 56 million more girls going to school, you would have told me I was dreaming.  But that is precisely what has happened because of people like all of you.  It’s happened because of your fierce devotion to those girls’ promise and your relentless efforts to transform their lives.

And if we truly believe that every girl in every corner of the globe is worthy of an education as our own daughters and granddaughters are, then we need to deepen our commitment to these efforts.  We need to make even more commitments and investments like the ones we’re announcing this week –- programs to provide scholarships and hygiene facilities in schools; public awareness campaigns to change attitudes about our girls; efforts to collect data on how girls learn, and so much more.

We also need to fight even harder to ensure that quality education for every child and the empowerment of women and girls are dedicated goals on our Post-2015 Development Agenda — yes, absolutely.  (Applause.)  Keeping our girls safe on their way to school, teaching them relevant skills once they’re there, and ensuring they graduate from secondary school — all of these things must be a part of our agenda.  Addressing gender-based violence in all of its forms –- from domestic violence, to genital cutting, to early and forced marriages –- all of that needs to be on the agenda too.

Because girls around the world deserve so much better.  They do.  They are so eager to learn.  And so many of them are sacrificing so much just for the chance to get an education.  I’m thinking about girls like Malala.  I’m thinking about those brave girls in Nigeria.  I’m thinking about all the girls who will never make the headlines who walk hours to school each day, who study late into the night because they are so hungry to fill every last bit of their God-given potential.

If we can show just a tiny fraction of their courage and their commitment, then I know we can give all of our girls an education worthy of their promise.  And let me just say this — in the years and decades ahead, I am so very eager to engage even more deeply with leaders in this room, across the United States and around the world on this issue until every young woman on our planet has the opportunity to learn and grow and thrive.

Thank you very much.  God bless.  (Applause.)

END
3:48 P.M. EDT

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