Full Text Political Transcripts December 31, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at My Brother’s Keeper National Summit

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at My Brother’s Keeper National Summit

Source: WH, 12-14-16

South Court Auditorium

5:03 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Hello!  Everybody, please have a seat.  Welcome to the White House.

Thank you, Malachi, for the great introduction and being a great role model for the young people coming up behind you.  I was watching the introduction on the screen — he’s very telegenic.  (Laughter.)  We might have to run him for something at some point.  (Laughter.)  We’re so proud of you.

And I want to make sure that we introduce the other young men who are behind me, as well, because they’ve got equally compelling stories.  Devin Edwards, coming out of MBK Boston.  Devin, wave.  There you go.  (Applause.)  And as well as Bunker Hill Community College in Greater Boston.  Jerron Hawkins, Howard University.  (Applause.)  White House Mentorship and Leadership Program.  You already met Malachi.  Noah McQueen, Morehouse College.  (Applause.)  One of our mentors.  Luis Ramirez, MBK Oakland Career and Opportunity Fair.  (Applause.)  And Quamiir Trice, MBK Philadelphia.  Howard University.  (Applause.)

These young people behind me are proof that a little love, a little support allows them to achieve anything they can dream, anything they can conceive.  Since day one, my administration has been focused on creating opportunities for all people.  And by almost every measure, this country is better off than it was when I started.  (Applause.)  But what we’ve also long understood is that some communities have consistently had the odds stacked against them — and that’s especially true for boys and young men of color.

All of you know the statistics and the stories of young people who had the intelligence, the potential to do amazing things, but somehow slipped through the cracks.  And I’ve said this before — I see myself in these young people.  I grew up without a father.  There were times where I made poor choices, times where I was adrift.  The only difference between me and a lot of other young men is that I grew up in a more forgiving environment.  I had people who encouraged me and gave me a second chance.

That’s why Michelle and I have dedicated so much of our time to creating opportunities for young people.  We know this is not just an urban problem; it’s not just a people of color problem.  This is a national challenge — because if we’re going to stay ahead as a nation, we’re going to need the talent of every single American.  And even more than that, this is about who we are as a country, what our values are, whether we’re going to continue to be a place where if you work hard you can succeed, or whether we continue to see stagnation and diminishing mobility and the ladders of opportunity cut off for too many people.  The only way we live up to America‘s promise is if we value every single child, not just our own, and invest in every single child as if they’re our own.

It’s almost three years ago, we launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to give more of our young people the tools and the support that they need to stay on track for a bright future.  We knew this couldn’t just be a government initiative.  We knew that our concerns couldn’t be sporadic, just inflamed by the latest high-profile shooting or some other disturbance.  It has to be sustained, thought through.  Progress had to be measurable.

So we put out a call for action across the country.  And I’ve just got to say, the response was incredible.  Hundreds of you — mayors, tribal leaders, county executives have created MBK communities in all 50 states, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico.  Businesses and foundations, many of whom are represented here today, are working across sectors and investing more than a billion dollars in proven pathways for young people.

In just a few years, the progress we’ve made is remarkable. So I just wanted to come by and say thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you for stepping up to the challenge.  Thank you for being great partners in this work.  Thank you for believing in our young people.

I also want to say thank you to the young men who are here and who came in from across the country, and many of whom are watching or may be listening, who’ve been part of this initiative.  I’ve had a chance to meet many of these young people.  Everybody on this stage, I’ve had significant conversations with.  I’ve heard their stories and I’ve seen young men like this grow into confident, capable, responsible men.  Many of you have overcome unbelievable obstacles — obstacles that most people never have to face.  It hasn’t always been easy, but look at the progress that you’ve inspired.  I could not be prouder of these young people and so many who are participating around the country.

And this is just the beginning.  We are going to keep these efforts going to invest in our young people, to break down barriers that keep them from getting ahead, and to make sure that they’ve got a chance to contribute.  And we’re going to need more of you to be mentors and role models and supporters for this next generation.  As they keep moving up in the world, then we’re going to call on them to reach back and invest in the folks who are coming behind them.

And that’s the final point I want to make.  My Brother’s Keeper was not about me, it was not about my presidency.  It’s not even just about Malachi and all these amazing young men behind me.  It’s about all of us working together.  Because ensuring that our young people can go as far as their dreams and hard work will take them is the single most important task that we have as a nation.  It is the single most important thing we can do for our country’s future.  This is something I will be invested in for the rest of my life, and I look forward to continuing the journey with you.  (Applause.)

So to the young people who are here, thank you.  To folks who are investing and supporting this effort, thank you.  But we are just scratching the surface.

For every one of these young men, there are tens of thousands — hundreds of thousands who are not currently being reached.  And although it is important for us to poke and prod and push government at every level to make the investments that are necessary — to ensure our schools are properly funded and are teaching the kids what they need to learn, that we are investing and making sure that there are jobs available in communities so that people can see that there is a right path to go down that will result in them having a bright future; although there’s infrastructure that has to be built by the government to ensure that our young people can succeed and prosper in this 21st century economy — we can’t wait for government to do it for us.

We’ve got to make sure that we’re out there showing what works.  We’ve got to put our own time and energy and effort and money into the effort.  We have to be rigorous in measuring what works.  We can’t hang onto programs just because they’ve been around a long time.  We can’t be protective of programs that have not produced results for young people, even if they’ve produced some jobs for some folks running them.  (Laughter.)  And we have to make sure that we’re casting a wide net so that we’re not just cherry-picking some kids who probably have so much drive they’d make it anyway.  We’ve also got to go deep, including in the places like juvenile facilities and our prisons to make sure that some very still-young people are reachable.

So this is going to be a big project.  It is as a consequence of neglect over generations that so many of these challenges exist.  We shouldn’t expect that we’re going to solve these problems overnight, but we’ve got proof about what happens when, as Malachi said, you just give folks a little love and you act on that love.  And I’m looking forward to working with you to do that.

Thank you, everybody.  God bless.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END
5:13 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 9, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Immigration Town Hall in Nashville, Tennessee — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Immigration Town Hall — Nashville, Tennessee

Source: WH, 12-9-14

Casa Azafran
Nashville, Tennessee

2:26 P.M. CST

THE PRESIDENT:Thank you, everybody.Thank you.(Applause.)Thank you so much.Everybody, please have a seat.Thank you very much.Everybody, please have a seat, have a seat.
Well, hello, Nashville.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:Hola.

THE PRESIDENT:Hola.Cómo estás?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:Bien, bien.

THE PRESIDENT:Bien.Thank you, Renata, for the wonderful introduction.I’ve brought some friends with me who I think you may know — your Congressmen, Jim Cooper — (applause) — as well as Congressman Steve Cohen from Memphis is here.(Applause.)And I want to thank — is your mayor still here?Where did he go?There he is right there, doing a great job.(Applause.)And his wonderful daughter — we’ve got to brag about her, she’s a junior at Barnard.I just embarrassed her.(Applause.)When you’re the father of daughters, your job is to embarrass them, and I’m trying to give an assist here.(Laughter.)

I want to thank Casa Azafran for hosting us, and for being home to so many organizations that do important work welcoming immigrants to the community.And that’s why I’ve come here today.I won’t make a long speech, because I want to have a dialogue, but I wanted to give some remarks at the top.

As Renata mentioned, some people might think Nashville was an odd place to talk immigration.It’s not what comes to mind when people think about gateways to America.But, as all of you know, Nashville’s got one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country.“New Nashvillians” — they’re from Somalia, Nepal, Laos, Mexico, Bangladesh.And Nashville happens to be the home of the largest Kurdish community in the United States as well.

“They” are “us.”They work as teachers in our schools, doctors in our hospitals, police officers in our neighborhoods.They start small businesses at a faster rate than many native-born Americans.They create jobs making this city more prosperous, and a more innovative place.And of course, they make the food better.(Laughter.)I know that Tennessee barbeque is pretty popular, but Korean barbeque is pretty good too.(Laughter.)

And the point is, welcoming immigrants into your community benefits all of us.And I was talking to your Mayor, Karl Dean, on the way over here, and he understands this.He’s been a great partner when it comes to preparing immigrants to become citizens.

A couple of weeks ago, I create a Task Force on New Americans that’s going to help do this kind of work all across the country.But, as we all know, our immigration system has been broken for a long time.Families who come here the right way can get stuck in line for years.Business owners who treat their workers right sometimes are undercut by competition from folks who are not just hiring undocumented workers but then underpaying them or not paying them minimum wage, or not giving them the benefits that they have earned.Nobody likes the idea of somebody reaping the rewards of living in America without its responsibilities as well.And there are all kinds of folks who want to gladly embrace those responsibilities, but they have no way to come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

And a year and a half ago, a big majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents in the Senate –- including both of your senators -– passed a bipartisan bill to fix our broken immigration system.The bill wasn’t perfect, but it was a common-sense compromise.It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents.It would have made the legal immigration system smarter and faster.It would have given millions of people a chance to earn their citizenship the right way.It was good for our economy — independent economists estimated that it would not only grow our economy faster but shrink our deficits faster.And if the House of Representatives had simply called for an up-or-down vote, it would have passed.It would be the law.We would be on the way to solve — solving this problem in a sensible way.But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House blocked this simple up-or-down vote.

I still believe that the best way to solve this — is by working together to pass the kind of common-sense law that was passed in the Senate.But until then, there are actions that I have the legal authority to take that will help make our immigration system smarter and fairer.And I took those actions last month.

We’re providing more resources at the border to help law enforcement personnel stop illegal crossings and send home those who cross over.We’re going to focus our enforcement resources on people who actually pose a threat to our communities — felons rather than families, and criminals rather than children.We’re going to bring more undocumented immigrants out of the shadows so they can play by the rules — they have to pass a criminal background check, pay taxes, contribute more fully to our economy.

So this isn’t amnesty, or legalization, or even a path to citizenship.That can only be done by Congress.It doesn’t apply to anybody who’s come to this country recently, or who might come illegally in the future.What it does is create a system of accountability, a common-sense, middle-ground approach.And what we’re saying is, until Congress fixes this problem legislatively, if you have deep ties to this country and you are willing to get right by the law and do what you need to do, then you shouldn’t have to worry about being deported or being separated from your kids.

These are the kind of lawful actions taken by every President, Republican and Democrat, for the past 50 years.So when members of Congress question whether I have the authority to do this, I have one answer:Yes, and pass a bill.(Laughter.)If you want Congress to be involved in this process, I welcome it, but you’ve got to pass a bill that addresses the various components of immigration reform in a common-sense way.

And I want to work with both parties to get this done.The day I sign this bill into law, then the executive actions I take are no longer necessary and some of the changes that I’ve instituted administratively become permanent.

Unfortunately, so far, the only response that we’ve had out of the House was a vote taken last week to force talented young people and workers to leave our country.Rather than deport students or separate families or make it harder for law enforcement to do its job, we just need Congress to work with us to pass a common-sense law to fix the broken immigration system.

And meanwhile, Washington shouldn’t let disagreements on this issue prevent action on every other issue.That’s not how our democracy works.Americans are tired of gridlock.We’re seeing the economy move forward.We need to build on that.And certainly my administration is ready to work for it on a whole range of issues.

I do recognize that there are controversies around immigration — there always have been, by the way.Even those who know we need to reform the system may be concerned about not having Congress get it done.Then there are some folks who worry about immigration changing the fabric of our society, or taking jobs from native-born Americans.And I understand those concerns, but, as I said, they’re not new.As a country, we have had these concerns since the Irish and Italians and Poles were coming to Boston and New York, and we have the same concerns when Chinese and Japanese Americans were traveling out West.

But what our history and the facts show is that generation after generation, immigrants have been a net-plus to our economy, and a net-plus to our society.And that’s what cities like Nashville prove is still the case.And this city proves that we can address these concerns together and make sure that immigration works for everybody — that it strengthens our economy, that it strengthens our communities, that we can talk about some of the tensions and concerns in a constructive way rather than yelling at each other.

And so let me close with a story of somebody who’s working to bring people together.David Lubell, who many of you know and who’s here today — where’s David?There he is.(Applause.)So David used to run the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.And he knew that some folks were skeptical about immigrants changing the face of Nashville.And he also knew, though, that these immigrants were good people.So he saw an opportunity for immigration to unite this city rather than divide it.And in 2005, he started “Welcoming Tennessee,” which connects long-term residents in the community with new immigrants.And you’d have dinners and church socials, and at Rotary clubs, and folks got to know each other and maybe feel some empathy, and see themselves in new arrivals.

And the conversations weren’t always easy, but it created a foundation of mutual understanding and respect.And today, David’s initiative is expanding across the country.I think we — you said, David, that we’ve got these kinds of efforts going on in 42 cities around the country.

This is what makes America exceptional.We welcome strivers.We welcome dreamers from all around the world.And it keeps us young, and it keeps us invigorated, and it keeps us striving and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.And then we all bind ourselves together around similar ideals, a similar creed.And one generation in, suddenly those kids are already Americans like everybody else, and we have the same dreams and hopes for them, the same aspirations.

And if we keep harnessing that potential, there’s no limit to what this country can achieve.So Nashville is helping to lead the way in getting this conversation right.We hope that if it happens around the country, that eventually it will drift into the House of Representatives — (laughter) — and we’re going to get the kind of comprehensive legislation that we need to actually solve this problem.

So with that, let me start taking some questions.Thank you very much, everybody.I appreciate it.(Applause.)

So I’ve got a microphone here.This is a nice, intimate group.And so there’s no rules really.I’d just ask everybody who wants to speak to raise their hand.I’ll call on you one at a time.We’ve got some microphones in the audience.And why don’t you, when you’re asking your questions, stand, introduce yourself, tell us a little about yourself, and then ask your question.Try to keep your question relatively brief so — and I’ll try to keep my answers relatively brief.(Laughter.)I don’t always succeed, but I’ll do my best.I’m going to take off my jacket because it’s warm in here.Is Marvin back there?Okay, we’ve got some — here we go.Thanks.

All right.Who wants to go first?Yes, right here in the front.

Q Hi, Mr. President.Thank you so much for coming to Nashville, and the Latin community loves you and welcome you to Nashville.My question is — and I think it’s a concern in the community that — what is going to happen if the next administration decide not to follow what you — the executive action?And I think many of the communities — afraid are they going to be first in line to deportation because they give their information.And that would be my question.

THE PRESIDENT:Well, I think it’s a good question.So let me just — let me go over the mechanics of what’s going to happen.

First of all, part of what we’re saying is that we can’t deport 11 million people and it would be foolish to try, as well as I think wrong for us to try.Congress only allocates a certain amount of money to the immigration system, so we have to prioritize.And my priority is not to separate families who have already been living here but to try to make sure that our borders are secure, to make sure that people come through the right way; to focus on criminals, focus — those who pose a real risk to our society.

And so what’s happened is, is the Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of the immigration services, what it said is, is that we’re going to set up priorities in terms of who is subject to deportation.And at the top are criminals, people who pose a threat, and at the bottom are ordinary people who are otherwise law abiding.And what we’re saying essentially is, in that low-priority list, you won’t be a priority for deportation.You’re not going to be deported.We’re not going to keep on separating families.And that new priority list applies to everybody, all 11 million people who are here — I mean, not 11 million, let’s say, whatever the number is.So even if somebody didn’t sign up, they’re still much less likely to be subject to deportation.That’s because we’ve changed our enforcement priorities in a formal way.

What we’re also saying, though, is that for those who have American children or children who are legal permanent residents, that you can actually register and submit yourself to a criminal background check, pay any back taxes and commit to paying future taxes, and if you do that, you’ll actually get a piece of paper that gives you an assurance that you can work and live here without fear of deportation.That doesn’t apply to everybody, but it does apply to roughly five million — about half of what is estimated to be the number of undocumented workers here.

Now, that is temporary.Just like DACA, the program that we put in place for young people who are brought here who otherwise are good citizens, are studying, working, joining our military — we did that several years ago, where we said, it doesn’t make sense for us to subject these young people to a deportation risk; they’re Americans in their heart even if they don’t have the right piece of paper.That’s temporary as well, although it’s been subject to renewal.

And so it’s true that a future administration might try to reverse some of our policies.But I’ll be honest with you, I think that the American people basically have a good heart and want to treat people fairly.And every survey shows that if, in fact, somebody has come out, subjected themselves to a background check, registered, paid their taxes, that the American people support allowing them to stay.So I think any future administration that tried to punish people for doing the right thing I think would not have the support of the American people.

The real question is, how do we make sure that enough people register so that it’s not just a few people in a few pockets around the country.And that’s going to require a lot of work by local agencies, by municipalities, by churches, by community organizations.We’ve got to give people confidence that they can go ahead and register; also make sure that they understand they don’t have to hire a lawyer or go to the notary in order to pay for this.Because what we saw during DACA when the young people were given this opportunity, a lot of people signed up but sometimes you would see advertisements, come and give us $1,000 or $2,000 and we’ll help you — you don’t have to do that.And so we’ve just got to build an effective network around the country.And the Department of Homeland Security will be working with local organizations to make sure that people get the right information.

But I think the main response to people that we have to assure them of is that the American people actually are fair-minded and want to reward rather than punish people who do the right thing.And if you register, I’m confident that that’s going to be something that allows you to then get on a path to being here in this country with your children and watching them grow up and making a life for yourself, as you already have.

Last point.It still is important for us, though, because this is temporary to make sure that we keep pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.Without an actual law, an actual statute passed by Congress, it’s true that theoretically a future administration could do something that I think would be very damaging.It’s not likely, politically, that they’d reverse everything that we’ve done, but it could be that some people then end up being in a disadvantageous position.And nobody is going to have a path to actual citizenship until we get a law passed.

Now, the Senate law would call for people to go to the back of the line, so it would take 10, 13 years before they have citizenship, but at least there’s that pathway.That’s why we still need a law.

And then there are some areas like, for example, the business sector, a lot of high-tech businesses are still looking for young graduates from computer science programs or physics programs around the country.And instead of being able to recruit them and put them to work, those kids are all going home and starting new businesses and creating jobs someplace else.And that doesn’t make any sense.So that’s another area where we couldn’t do anything administratively about that.We were able to streamline some of the legal immigration system, but we’ve still got more work to do.

Okay?Good.I’m going to go boy, girl, boy, girl to make sure that it’s fair.(Laughter.)So, right here.

Q Thank you.Good afternoon, President.Thank you so much for doing what you did.I was undocumented for 10 years from 1996.I took advantage of the amnesty.I want to thank you.I’m a community organizer with the Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C., working with the immigrants from the Human Rights Coalition.And I really thank the people from Nashville, Tennessee for hosting future Chicagoans – of course, I’m from Chicago, too.(Laughter.)

And my question to you is, thank you for the 5 million, but what about the others.There are millions of people who are going to be in the limbo, at risk of being deported.And the second question is, since talking about confidence -– people are skeptical about this, because they are afraid to apply for this.So what is your administration going to do to get the confidence — and people to feel safe to apply for this program that you just passed?Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:Okay.Well, I sort of answered the question, but I’ll try to answer it one more time.The prioritization in terms of deportation — that applies to everybody, even if you don’t do anything.Now, this will take time to get ICE officers at the ground level to understand what these new priorities are and to apply them in a consistent way.And so there are still going to be stories around the country where some family is separated.

Over time, though, we’re really going to be pushing to retrain and refocus and reprioritize ICE officers to understand let’s focus on criminals, let’s focus on felons, let’s not focus on families.

In terms of setting up the system to sign people up to register so they can get an actual piece of paper that says they can work here, that’s probably going to take a couple of months. And so that gives us time then to communicate through our community organizations, through our churches, through our cities and towns to make sure that people have good information.

So the folks who, as you said, are in limbo, it’s true that they’re not going to qualify for the DACA-like registration process that I described.They’ll still be, if they’re law-abiding, otherwise, if they’re working, peaceful, then they’re much less likely to deportation now than they would have been in the past.And they don’t have to do anything for that.But the registration process, if you qualify, is powerful because you’re now able to go to work without being in the shadows, and you’re paying taxes, which is good for everybody, because we want people to be above board and to do things the right way.

And I think that those who register — my belief is, is that when we do get to passing a law, finally, I think those who have taken the time to register, pay taxes, gone through a criminal background check, they’ve got documentation and proof that they’ve done all that, they’re going to have an easier time then qualifying, I think, for a more permanent legal status because they will have already gone through the screening.And that’s one incentive for why people should want to sign up.

But building trust will take time.But that’s where you come in, so that’s your job.I’m going to work with you.I’ll work with Renata and I’ll work with other activists here to make sure it happens.But we’re going to have to do this together.

I will point out that you already had incredible courage among young people when we announced DACA.Now, we didn’t get 100 percent of young people who qualified signing up, but we got more than half of the people who were qualified signing up.And slowly then, each person who has the courage to sign up, that creates more confidence across the board.

All right, it’s a young woman’s turn now.Yes, go ahead.

Q Hi, Mr. President, and thank you so much for being here with us and giving us this opportunity to speak out our fears.I would like to ask you –- I’m with the Tennessee Immigrants and Refugee Rights Coalition.I’m part of the Migrant Women Committee.And I would like to ask you –- people like me that will probably benefit from this executive order, there is a lot of fear still for people that can have the path to a citizen but not immediately.But they apply for DAPA, the Deferred Action for Parents.Will they face a bar from being in this situation?

THE PRESIDENT:No, I think that those who are — look, I would encourage anybody who has another path for legalization to follow that path.But this does not short-circuit whatever other strategies you’re pursuing.If you are already trying to get legal permanent resident status or citizenship through some of the existing laws, then you should feel free to continue that.What this does do is it simply says that it gives you an opportunity to make sure that deportation is not going to happen during this period — which will extend for several years.

Can Big Marvin get me my cup of tea back there?Oh, here it is.All right.This isn’t Big Marvin, but he’s big.(Laughter.)

All right.Gentleman there in the back.

Q I’m a member of the Coalition for Education — Immigration.I’m an immigrant to Nashville.I grew up — Chicago, have lived here the last 12 years.

THE PRESIDENT:It’s warmer here.(Laughter.)

Q I do miss the White Sox.

THE PRESIDENT:Yes.

Q My question is about — one of the many things I appreciate so much about your leadership is the civil way in which you approach the most difficult of problems, in spite of hearing the rancor you do from those who disagree.(Inaudible)
-– community like this, trying to talk with reason only to be greeted by deep emotion and anger and rhetoric that is demeaning. It’s almost as if we need a civility platform for our nation, an office of civility — maybe for our U.S. Congress.Excuse me, Jim.But I’m serious about how do we teach young people to act in a civil way if we don’t role-model the civility?And how important is that for us to move forward, that we can engage in the kinds of conversations in the tone that you present problems?

THE PRESIDENT:Well, look, first of all, I don’t know anybody more civil than Jim Cooper.(Applause.)He is an extraordinary gentleman, and always has been, ever since I’ve had a chance to know him since I came to Washington.

Look, immigration, as I said before, has always elicited passion.And it’s ironic because unless you are a member of a Native American tribe, you came here from someplace else, or your people did.And I know that sometimes folks talk about, well, we came here the right way rather than the wrong way.And it’s true that previous generations came through Ellis Island or they came through Angel Island or other ways of arriving here.

But I think sometimes we overstate the degree to which that was some really elaborate bureaucratic process.There’s a reason, for example, that these days a lot of people named Smith used to be named Smithsowsky or Smitharea or whatever it is.What happened is when they came in somebody just said, what’s your name, and they stamped them and if they couldn’t pronounce it — you always hear stories about they Anglicized it.A lot of times people’s papers were not necessarily being checked because folks might not have had papers.And who came in and who didn’t varied depending on how big of a workforce — or how much industry was looking for new labor, and what the political climate was at that particular time.

And so what happens is, is that once folks are here we kind of forget that we used to be there.And what I try to do when I talk about these issues is just try to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and feel some empathy, and recognize that to some degree, if you’re American, somewhere back there, there was somebody who was a newcomer here too.And it wasn’t always neat and orderly the way the American population expanded across the West.And if we have that sense of empathy then maybe that creates civility.That’s why the kinds of efforts were seeing here in Nashville just conversations where people get to know newcomers is so important.

It’s interesting — I was telling Steve and Jim, I get about 40,000 correspondence every day, and some of them are just writing to say you’re doing a good job, keep going.Some of them are you are the worst President ever, you’re an idiot, a lot of them are just people asking for help.

But more than once, multiple times during the course of my presidency, I’ve gotten letters from people who say I don’t agree with you about anything, I am a Republican, I used to be really angry with you about your immigration posture and then I found out that my son Jim’s best friend, Jose, was undocumented and he wasn’t going to be able to apply to the local college because he was afraid about being deported, and this is a kid who has played in my back yard, helped me wash my car, and been on the ball team with my kid and I loved this kid and so I don’t think it’s right that this young person shouldn’t be treated the same way that I would want someone to treat my son.And I’ve gotten a lot of letters like that.And they say, even though I still don’t agree with you about anything — (laughter) — I do ask you — that you give Jose a chance.

And so that’s where civility comes from.It’s that interaction and personal experience as opposed to just being able to stereotype somebody one way or the other.Now, it’s important, by the way, though, that the civility runs both ways.And I do think — obviously I’ve been at the receiving end of people really angry at me about not just these executive actions, but have been ginned up by some of the conservative talk shows that think that I’m usurping my authority despite the fact that every previous President has exercised the same authority or they think I’m favoring immigrants over red-blooded Americans.And so that’s a lot of the criticism directed at me.

But what’s also true is sometimes advocates on behalf of immigrants have suggested that anybody who is concerned about the impact of immigration, or asks questions about comprehensive immigration reform, that they must be racist or they must be anti-immigrant or their ignorant.And, that’s not true either.

There are people who are good people who actually believe in immigration, but are concerned about rewarding somebody who broke American laws.There are good people who believe in immigration but are concerned, will new immigrants depress wages, particularly in the low-wage sectors of the economy.Those are legitimate questions, and we have to be just as civil in addressing those questions as we expect people to be when we are talking to them.Because I think the facts are on our side, I think the studies have shown that over time immigrants aren’t lowering wages but in fact improving the economy, and over time, boosting wages and jobs for everyone.

So I would rather just make the argument on the facts, but just because somebody thinks that instinctually doesn’t mean that they are bad people.So civility is good, but it doesn’t just run one way.And I think — the good book says, don’t throw stones in glass houses, or make sure we’re looking at the log in our eye before were pulling out the mote in other folks eyes.And I think that’s as true in politics as it is in life.

Okay.Let’s see if I’ve got any women who want to ask questions today.I’m going to make sure I’m fair.That young lady in the back right there.You.

Q Hi.I’m part of an organization that works with refugees and immigrants.And one question I have — was there a particular reason why the parents of the DACA — the DREAMers, the DACA recipients, were excluded in your new executive order?

THE PRESIDENT:Yes, there is.And it was — the actions I took were bound by the legal authority that the Office of Legal Counsel determined I had in this area.The office — I don’t want to get too technical here, but the Office of Legal Counsel is a special office in the Department of Justice that is mandated to give me independent judgment not subject to politics or pressure from me about what my legal authorities are.

And so we presented to them the various things that we’d like to do.They were very clear about my legal authority to prioritize and then provide this temporary protection for parents whose children were Americans, or — American citizens, or legal permanent residents.Because the argument they found compelling, and there was a lot of precedent for, was — essentially humanitarian argument — that if we’re prioritizing, why would we want to separate families.

The challenge we had in the minds of the Office of Legal Counsel was, if you’ve already exempted the young people through DACA, and then you bootstrap off of that the capacity to exempt their parents as well, you’re not rooted originally in somebody who is either a citizen or a legal permanent resident.So it was a legal constraint on our authority.It was not because we did not care about those parents.

And I know that there are a lot of DREAM Act kids who are concerned that their parents may not still qualify.A sizable number do because they have a sibling who ended up being born in the United States.But not all do.This is one more reason why we still need to pass comprehensive immigration reform.Because what we did was to do everything that I could within my legal authority, but not go beyond the legal authority that we possessed.

This young man right here.I think the mic is coming from behind you.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.We are delighted to have you here in Nashville and in Casa Azafran.I’m a member of the mayor’s New American Advisory Council, and also direct a nonprofit that’s housed here called AMAC, the American Muslim Advisory Council.And my question to you is that — in 2004, when you gave that speech about — at the Democratic convention, kind of alluded to this idea that we are one nation, there’s no black and blue — blue or red America.But when it comes to this issue of immigration, as someone that works in this community, our mantra here in Nashville is, Nashville for all of us, and Tennessee for all of us.

So to come around that idea for America for all of us, that we don’t keep having this conversation — as the President, you have been in this position the past six years.What would you say to other — Americans who are feeling now on that side even considering the newly elected Congress that are adamant on stopping these steps?Because I got the privilege of being the — welcoming Tennessee director, and being in those conversations — and inherently, Tennesseans are the nicest people.Those people are in charge of the — that we used to have those conversations with.But what would you say to the rest of the nation — who thinks that now new Americans or immigrants are getting this special treatment?

THE PRESIDENT:Well, I, I addressed the nation when I announced this action, and I made a couple of simple points.

First of all, America is a nation of immigrants, but it’s also a nation of laws.And there does need to be accountability if you came here in a way that was not in accordance with the law.The question then becomes, how do you make that person accountable?I mean, one way of doing it is randomly or sporadically separating families, but you don’t have uniform enforcement, you’re pushing people into the shadows.They may not be paying taxes.They may be taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers.You are using all those resources instead of strengthening borders.And that’s not a smart outcome.

The second approach would be to pass laws that say, let’s improve the legal system.Because sometimes people actually would be qualified to come here if the system was just a little smoother, but they end up with a situation where they’ve got to wait years to be reunited with a family member who’s legally here and the heartache just becomes too great.So we’re — in some cases, we’re pushing people into the illegal system because we’re not making the legal system smart enough.

We can get people out of the shadows.We can acknowledge they are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers.And then we still have to be serious about border security.And there have been times — I want to be very frank — there have been times where I’ve had arguments with immigrant rights activists who say, effectively, you know, there shouldn’t be any rules, these are good people, why should we have any kind of enforcement like this.And my response is, in the eyes of God, everybody is equal.In the eyes of God, some child in Mexico, Guatemala, Libya, Nepal is the equal of my child.

I don’t make any claims that my child is superior to somebody else’s child.But I’m the President of the United States, and nation states have borders.And, frankly, because America is so much wealthier than most countries around the world, if we had no system of enforcing our borders and our laws, then I promise you, everybody would try to come here, or if not everybody — maybe you wouldn’t have that many Swedes or Singaporians try to come here, but a whole lot of folks would try to come.And that we couldn’t accommodate.And it wouldn’t be fair, because there’s — you have to have some sort of line.It can’t just be — it can’t be whoever is able to get in here first, and then — it’s sort of first one to win the race.Because sometimes it’s just an accident that one person lives in a country that has a border with the United States, and another person in Somalia, it’s a lot harder to get here.

So the idea is, then, that what we try to do is to have a system that resets; that acknowledges — and this is where I think most Americans are.They recognize, you know what, people who are already here — many times they’ve been here 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, they’ve got deep roots here, they’ve shown themselves to be good people, their kids are for all practical purposes Americans — let’s just acknowledge they’re part of our community, they’re part of our society.

But then the tradeoff is, let’s try to make the legal system fairer, and in some cases, that means, for example, doing more work at the borders — although, by the way, the real work at the borders is not simply to just — more fencing and more people every five minutes at the borders, because we’ve already got a whole lot of folks at the borders.We can do some other additional stuff, but a lot of it is helping Mexico or helping Central American countries strengthen their economies so people don’t feel desperate and compelled to come here.

But I guess the bottom line is, what I say to folks on the other side of this debate is, work with me to reflect the wisdom of the American people.And I think the American people’s wisdom is, people who are already here, let’s give them a shot, let’s get them out of the shadows, but let’s also set up a legal system that is more reliable, more certain, more fair, doesn’t have people jumping the line, is more honest and reflecting the fact that families, it’s very hard for them to stay separated for 10, 15 years and so you shouldn’t set up a legal system that requires that.You’ve got to figure out a way to have it more reflective of human nature.

Now, does that mean everybody is going to listen to me on the other side?Not necessarily.They’re pretty sure I’m an illegal immigrant.(Laughter.)That was a joke.(Laughter.)But I mean, there are going to be some who just disagree with you.

The good news is, is that over time, these issues work themselves out.Anybody who is of Irish extraction — and that includes me, because I’ve been to a little town in Ireland called Moneygall, where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather came over here.It turns out he was a boot maker, and it turns out Biden’s guy, Biden’s great-great-great-great-great came from I think the adjoining county within like 20 years.So me and Biden are — really are cousins.(Laughter.)

But anybody of Irish extraction just has to — read your history and look at how people talked about Irish immigrants.I mean, it was just — everything that’s said today was said about them — they’re criminals, they’re shiftless, they are draining our resources, they’re irresponsible, they’re going to change our culture.

And so if you read those passages, then you have to understand that this is not a new phenomenon.But the good news is, it should also be a source of optimism, because over time, essentially, new people get absorbed.And it’s always messy.It’s always a messy piece of business.

But the one thing that I want to emphasize — because sometimes this doesn’t get emphasized enough, and it seems somewhat abstract — but any economist will tell you that economies with younger workforces grow faster than economies with older workforces.One of the biggest advantages America has over Europe, over Japan, over China is we have a younger population.And it’s almost a mathematical certainty that we will grow faster than they do, all things being equal — I mean, we’ve got to make good choices about investing in research and development and education and all that stuff — but all things being equal, we will grow significantly faster than those other countries because our population is younger.

The only reason our population is younger is because we have this tradition of immigrants.Otherwise — because native-born Americans, actually, our birth rates are as low as Europeans’ are.But we replenish ourselves, and that’s good.And, by the way, people who are about my age right now, and who are going to be looking to draw on Social Security, when you’re 70, the way Social Security works, it’s the current workforce that pays for the retired workforce.And so you have a stake in these folks working and paying taxes, these young people, to support your retirement.So this is — it’s good for the economy as well as for our society.

How much time do I have?I want to make sure I’m not — am I doing pretty good?I’ve got a priest here who’s got his hand up, but it’s a woman’s turn first so this is — I’m a little nervous about not calling on him right away but I’m trying to stick to the rules here.(Laughter.)So all right, young lady right in the front here.

Q Hello, Mr. President.I am a senior in high school.And my question to you would be, how can we as young people in our communities get involved to address issues such as immigration or the access to a post-secondary education?What are some things we can do?

THE PRESIDENT:Well, if you’re here, you must already be involved.(Laughter.)You know, getting young people involved in civic life and activism and voting is one of the most important things we can do as a society.Because there are exceptions and there are people who are young at heart and young at mind, but the truth is, you get older, you get stuck in your ways and you start looking backwards and really focused on what was instead of what could be.

And again, part of the reason America has done so well is because we constantly reimagine ourselves, and we have a youthful culture that says, well, let’s — in the words of Robert Kennedy, some people ask why, and we have a tendency to ask why not.And that’s good.

Now, young people are also busy with — I got a couple young people at home — they have other things that they’re interested.I won’t name all of them.Hopefully some if it is their books and doing their homework.(Laughter.)And one of the most concerning things I had about the midterm elections was young people — the voting rates among young people dropped off drastically.

Young people have tended to vote at very high level during my presidential campaigns, but in between, they lose interest.And part of what your peers have to do is to understand that politics and government and policy and all the decisions that are going to shape your lives are not just a matter of one election, but it has to be sustained over time.

And when you think about what’s at stake right now, immigration is obviously a major issue.Climate change — most of those of us who are 50 or over, by the time the problems of a warming climate really hit, we’ll be gone, but you’ll still be around and your kids will be here.And if it’s having a significant impact on weather patterns, and drought, and wildfires, and flooding, and food, and migration, it’s not going to be pretty.So you have to get involved now to do something about it.

When we look at higher education costs, historically, Congress and state legislatures are more attentive to the demands of seniors than they are the demands of young people for one simple reason:Seniors vote, young people don’t.If you want state legislatures to increase support for higher education that then can help reduce tuition, then young people have to vote at a higher percentage than just 12 percent of those who vote.

Look at what’s happening right now with respect to concerns about bias and law enforcement, and policing.I mean, I met with a group of young activists, including several from Ferguson, to talk to them, and I was very impressed with how they presented themselves, and they were very serious and thoughtful.And I told them, I said, listen, I want you to continue to be active, because that’s how change happens.You need to be respectful.You need to understand that you’re not going to get 100 percent of the change that is needed, because that’s never been how society works, but if you are steady and you sustain it and you push it and you don’t tired or disappointed when you get half a loaf instead of a whole loaf, over time, the country and the world is transformed.

And I’m confident that — I said in an interview recently — America is a more just place, and issues of racial discrimination are lessened today than they were 50 years ago or 20 years ago, but that didn’t just happen by accident, that happened because people — especially young people — helped to make it happen.And over time, change occurs and people adjust to a new reality, and they open their heart and mind to new possibilities.And young people are typically the triggers of that.

So I think when your leaders like — young leaders like you are talking to your friends, you’ve got to just remind them that you have responsibilities and obligations.And make sure that you serve pizza at the meetings — (laughter) — because free food always helps when getting young people involved in social causes.(Laughter.)

All right, Father.Thank you for your patience there, sir.You’ve got a microphone behind you.

Q Father Joseph Freen (ph), native Nashvillian.I think I speak on behalf of a good number of people, Mr. President, of both parties — some you know may not agree with some of your policies.But I think I can speak for so many who are so proud of you for giving such a great example of a husband, of a father, and doing your very best as a President.

So we are very proud of you, grateful you’ve come to Nashville.We wish for you — I’m sure on behalf of all of us — a joyful and a blessed Christmas to you.

THE PRESIDENT:Well, I appreciate that very much.That’s very nice.Thank you.(Applause.)

I appreciate that, Father.It’s worth considering the Good Book when you’re thinking about immigration.This Christmas season there’s a whole story about a young, soon-to-be-mother and her husband of modest means looking for a place to house themselves for the night, and there’s no room at the inn.

And as I said the day that I announced these executive actions, we were once strangers too.And part of what my faith teaches me is to look upon the stranger as part of myself.And during this Christmas season, that’s a good place to start.

So thank you for your generous comment.But if we’re serious about the Christmas season, now is a good time to reflect on those who are strangers in our midst, and remember what it was like to be a stranger.

Last question.That was a pretty good place to end, though.(Laughter.)I got to admit.I kind of want to — but I’m going to call on one more person.Gentlemen, you can all put your hands down.I’m going to call on this young lady right here.

Q Hi, Mr. President.I’m an immigration attorney.And I wonder, what are the things that you deem necessary for comprehensive immigration reform if Congress does act soon?

THE PRESIDENT:Well, the Senate bill is a pretty good place to start.I do think there’s more work we can do at the borders.As I said before, it’s not just a matter of pouring money down there.

I’ll give you one very simple example.You’ll recall that some of the politics of this shifted during the summer when these unaccompanied children were here.And there was two weeks of wall-to-wall coverage.And we were being invaded by 8-, and 12- and 13-year-olds.I mean it was just terrifying, apparently.But it reflected a serious problem.You had smugglers, coyotes, who were essentially taking money from family members here, shuttling these kids up — it wasn’t that they weren’t apprehended.It wasn’t like they snuck through the border.What happened was they basically presented themselves at the border.They’d come in.And because there are so few immigration judges down there, because we hadn’t done a very good job cooperating with Central America and Mexico to deal — go after these smugglers, you’d then have a situation which the kids would oftentimes simply be released to the family member, and then that was the end of the things.

And so one of the things that we’ve done is — well, several things we did.Number one, I met with the Central American leaders down there and said, listen, you can’t — you’ve got to do something to message to families down here:Do not send your children on a dangerous path like this because we don’t know how many of them might have gotten killed, gotten abducted, trafficked in some terrible way.We have no way of keeping track of that.You can’t have them take this dangerous journey.

And to their credit, those Central American countries worked with us.We said to Mexico, you’ve got to do something more about the southern border.They did that.We now have the number of unaccompanied children below the rate that it was two years ago.So this was a momentary spike.

But also what we need to do is make sure that we have enough immigration lawyers down there that you can process kids and immigration judges to process kids in a timely fashion, but with due process so that if they have legitimate refugee claims, those can be presented, and if not, then they can be returned home.

So that’s not a strict border issue.It’s not a fence issue.It’s “have you set up a sensible process” issue.So I think that’s one pillar.

Second pillar is improving the legal immigration system.I already mentioned this but I’ll just repeat a couple of examples.Somebody who potentially qualifies to be a resident here, forcing them to leave the country and then waiting for years before they come back when they’ve got family members here, that’s just not how the human heart works.It’s very hard to expect somebody to do that.

Let’s have a more sensible, streamlined system.Let’s reduce some of the backlogs that already exist for people who actually qualify, but it’s just they’re waiting in line so long that they get frustrated.Let’s do something for especially talented and skilled people who are graduating.We educate them.We should be stapling a green card to graduates of top schools in fields that we know we need.And by the way, we can charge fees that we then use to make sure that American kids are getting the kinds of scholarships and training they need for those same jobs in the future.

We need to do more work.We need to deal with the agricultural sector.I’m generally skeptical when you hear employers say, well, we just can’t find any Americans to do the job.A lot of times what they really mean is, it’s a lot cheaper if we potentially hire somebody who has just come here before they know better in terms of what they’re worth.

But in the agriculture sector, there’s truth.We enjoy a lot of cheap fruits and vegetables and food stuffs because of the back-breaking work of farm workers.And we should find a system that is fair, make sure that they are not subject to exploitation, and helps us run the economy.We should make sure that we’re cracking down on employers who are purposely hiring undocumented workers so that they can get around minimum wage laws or overtime laws, so forth.

And finally, as I’ve discussed this whole afternoon, we should get people out of the shadows.And the Senate bill I thought had a sensible approach, which said, if you’ve been here a certain amount of time, you’ve got a clean record, you’re willing to submit yourself to a background check, you’re willing to pay back-taxes, you’re willing to pay a fine, learn English, go to the back of the line, but if you do all that, you can stay here for now and we’re going to put you on a pathway where eventually you can earn your citizenship, although it will be many years into the future because we still have to clear out those folks who did it the right way.

This concept — what I just described, that package — has bipartisan support.It’s not that it doesn’t have bipartisan support.The challenge is, is that there’s a certain segment — primarily within the Republican Party, although in fairness, in the Democratic Party there are some people who are resistant as well, who just keep on believing this notion of, that’s amnesty, that’s amnesty.

And what amnesty implies I think in the minds of the American people is that you’re getting something for nothing; that you’re getting over.And when you describe for people that, in fact, you do have to get a background check, you do have to register, you do have to pay fines, you do have to pay back-taxes, then people feel differently.But that’s never advertised by opponents.And that’s one reason why, by the way, that I’ve said to immigrant rights groups, you have to describe the responsibility side of this and not just the rights side of this.Because I think sometimes — I appreciate the immigrant rights groups.They speak from the heart, and they know the people involved.And they love them, and they want to just do right by them.And I get that.

But this is where you need to look at the other side of the equation and what people feel like is, you know what, if you’re just coming here for nothing, and I don’t know that you’re paying your taxes and you broke the law, and now suddenly I’m paying for your kid’s school and your kid’s hospitalization, and if feels unfair — at a time when people are already feeling burdened by their own challenges, trying to afford their own kid’s college education, or feeling like they’re worried about their own retirement.

So the langue we use I think is important.You have to speak to the fact that — if somebody broke the law, even if they’re good people, they’ve got to be held accountable.And there are going to be responsibilities involved in it.Because if it’s just rights and no responsibilities, then people feel resentful.

That make sense?All right, guys, I enjoyed spending time with you.Thank you.(Applause.)

END
3:37 P.M. CST

Political Musings December 1, 2014: Obama issues four-point plan to improve minority police relations after Ferguson

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obama issues four-point plan to improve minority police relations after Ferguson

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama wants to actively do something to curb the wave of police shootings of unarmed African Americans that seems to be plaguing the country. On Monday, Dec. 1, 2014 President Obama hosted three meetings at the White House…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency August 14, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement Updating in the Situations in Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-14-14

Edgartown, Massachusetts

12:49 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody. This sound system is really powerful.  Today, I’d like to update the American people on two issues that I’ve been monitoring closely these last several days.

First of all, we continue to make progress in carrying out our targeted military operations in Iraq.  Last week, I authorized two limited missions:  protecting our people and facilities inside of Iraq, and a humanitarian operation to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians stranded on a mountain.

A week ago, we assessed that many thousands of Yezidi men, women and children had abandoned their possessions to take refuge on Mount Sinjar in a desperate attempt to avoid slaughter.  We also knew that ISIL terrorists were killing and enslaving Yezidi civilians in their custody, and laying siege to the mountain. Without food or water, they faced a terrible choice — starve on the mountain, or be slaughtered on the ground.  That’s when America came to help.

Over the last week, the U.S. military conducted humanitarian air drops every night –- delivering more than 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of fresh water.  We were joined in that effort by the United Kingdom, and other allies pledged support. Our military was able to successfully strike ISIL targets around the mountain, which improved conditions for civilians to evacuate the mountain safely.

Yesterday, a small team of Americans -– military and civilian -– completed their review of the conditions on the mountain.  They found that food and water have been reaching those in need, and that thousands of people have been evacuating safely each and every night.  The civilians who remain continue to leave, aided by Kurdish forces and Yezidis who are helping to facilitate the safe passage of their families.  So the bottom line is, is that the situation on the mountain has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts.

Because of the skill and professionalism of our military –- and the generosity of our people –- we broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar; we helped vulnerable people reach safety; and we helped save many innocent lives.  Because of these efforts, we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to need to continue humanitarian air drops on the mountain.  The majority of the military personnel who conducted the assessment will be leaving Iraq in the coming days.  And I just want to say that as Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the men and women of our military who carried out this humanitarian operation almost flawlessly.  I’m very grateful to them and I know that those who were trapped on that mountain are extraordinarily grateful as well.

Now, the situation remains dire for Iraqis subjected to ISIL’s terror throughout the country, and this includes minorities like Yezidis and Iraqi Christians; it also includes Sunnis, Shia and Kurds.  We’re going to be working with our international partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering in northern Iraq wherever we have capabilities and we can carry out effective missions like the one we carried out on Mount Sinjar without committing combat troops on the ground.

We obviously feel a great urge to provide some humanitarian relief to the situation and I’ve been very encouraged by the interest of our international partners in helping on these kinds of efforts as well.  We will continue air strikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq.  We have increased the delivery of military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIL on the front lines.

And, perhaps most importantly, we are urging Iraqis to come together to turn the tide against ISIL –- above all, by seizing the enormous opportunity of forming a new, inclusive government under the leadership of Prime Minister-designate Abadi.  I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister-designate Abadi a few days ago, and he spoke about the need for the kind of inclusive government — a government that speaks to all the people of Iraq — that is needed right now.  He still has a challenging task in putting a government together, but we are modestly hopeful that the Iraqi government situation is moving in the right direction.

Now, second, I want to address something that’s been in the news over the last couple of days and that’s the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.  I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by the images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country, as police have clashed with people protesting.  Today, I’d like us all to take a step back and think about how we’re going to be moving forward.

This morning, I received a thorough update on the situation from Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been following it and been in communication with his team.  I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate the death of Michael Brown, along with local officials on the ground.

The Department of Justice is also consulting with local authorities about ways that they can maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation.  I made clear to the Attorney General that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened, and to see that justice is done.

I also just spoke with Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri.  I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened, and to find a way to come together going forward.  He is going to be traveling to Ferguson.  He is a good man and a fine governor, and I’m confident that, working together, he is going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way.

Of course, it’s important to remember how this started.  We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances.  He was 18 years old.  His family will never hold Michael in their arms again.  And when something like this happens, the local authorities –- including the police -– have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death, and how they are protecting the people in their communities.

There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting.  There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.  And here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.  Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority.

I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened.  There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred.  There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward.  That’s part of our democracy.  But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family.  We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law; a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest; a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us; and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.

So now is the time for healing.  Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.  Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done.  And I’ve asked that the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney on the scene continue to work with local officials to move that process forward.  They will be reporting to me in the coming days about what’s being done to make sure that happens.

Thanks very much, everybody.

END
12:58 P.M. EDT

White House Shareables

Full Text Obama Presidency July 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks in a Town Hall with the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Town Hall with the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

Source: WH, 7-28-14

Omni Shoreham Hotel
Washington, D.C.

11:10 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Hello, everybody.  Thank you.  (Applause.) Thank you so much.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Have a seat.  We’re just getting started here.  Well, hello, everybody.  (Applause.)  Welcome to Washington.  I know most of you are visiting our country for the first time.  So on behalf of the American people, welcome to the United States of America.  (Applause.)  We are thrilled to have you here.  And to everybody who’s watching online across Africa, or at watch parties, or following through social media — you are a part of this, too, and we’re very glad that you’re with us.

And can everybody please give Faith a big round of applause for the great introduction.  (Applause.)  I have to say Faith didn’t seem very intimidated by the — (applause) — she seemed not lacking in confidence.  (Laughter.)  And she’s doing great work in South Africa to empower young people and young entrepreneurs, especially women.

Now, I’m not here to give a big speech.  The whole idea of a town hall is for me to be able to hear from you.  But first, I want to speak briefly about why I believe so strongly in all of you being here today.

Next week, I’ll host a truly historic event — the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, where nearly 50 Presidents and Prime Ministers attend from just about all of your countries.  It will be the largest gathering any American President has ever hosted with African heads of state and government.  And the summit reflects a principle that has guided my approach to Africa ever since I became President — that the security and prosperity and justice that we seek in the world cannot be achieved without a strong and prosperous and self-reliant Africa.

And even as we deal with crises and challenges in other parts of the world that often dominate our headlines, even as we acknowledge the real hardships that so many Africans face every day, we have to make sure that we’re seizing the extraordinary potential of today’s Africa, which is the youngest and fastest-growing of the continents.

So next week’s summit will focus on how we can continue to build a new model of partnership between America and Africa — a partnership of equals that focuses on your capacity to expand opportunity and strengthen democracy and promote security and peace.  But this can’t be achieved by government alone.  It demands the active engagement of citizens, especially young people.

And so that’s why, four years ago, I launched the Young African Leaders Initiative to make sure that we’re tapping into the incredible talent and creativity of young Africans like you. (Applause.)  Since then, we’ve partnered with thousands of young people across the continent — empowering them with the skills and the training and technology they need to start new businesses, to spark change in their communities, to promote education and health care and good governance.

And last year in South Africa, at a town hall like this in Soweto — some of you were there -— I announced the next step, which was the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.  The objective was to give young Africans the opportunity to come to the United States and develop their skills as the next generation of leaders in civil society and business and government.

And the response was overwhelming.  Across the continent, young men and women set out on a journey.  In remote villages with no phones and Internet, they navigated the back roads, and they traveled by bus and train to reach larger towns and cities
-— just to get an online application for the program.  One young woman from rural Zimbabwe took a five-hour bus ride, then another six-hour bus ride, then another seven-hour bus ride — a two-day journey -— just to get her interview.

And ultimately, some 50,000 extraordinary young Africans applied.  And today they’re at the heart of what we’re calling our YALI Network, the online community across Africa that’s sharing their ideas and forging new collaborations to realize the change that they seek.  And I want everybody out there in the YALI Network to know that you’re the foundation of our partnership with Africa’s youth.

So today, we’re thrilled to welcome you, our Washington Fellows, to an exchange program unlike any other that America has ever had with Africa.  And among your ranks is that young woman from Zimbabwe who endured all those bus rides.  So we want to welcome Abbigal Muleya.  (Applause.)  Where’s Abbigal?  Where’s Abbigal?  Where is she?  There’s Abbigal.  (Applause.)  That’s a lot of bus rides.  (Laughter.)

Now, I do have a first item of business.  As I said, I launched this fellowship in Soweto, not far from the original home of Nelson Mandela.  And the spirit of this program reflects Madiba’s optimism, his idealism, his belief in what he called “the endless heroism of youth.”  And so today, with the blessing of the Mandela family, to whom we’re so grateful, we are proud to announce that the new name of this program is the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.  (Applause.)  So you’re the first class of Mandela Washington Fellows.  (Applause.)

Now, I know all of you have been busy — all of you have been busy at some of America’s top colleges and universities.  You’ve been learning how to build a grassroots organization, and how to run a business, and how to manage an institution.  As one of you said, “My brain has been bubbling with all sorts of ideas.”  And I know you’ve also been developing your own ideas for meeting the challenges that we’ll address at next week’s summit.  And I wanted you to know I’ve read some of the recommendations that were produced at each university and college, and I thought they were outstanding pieces of work.  And that’s what I want you to hear today -— your ideas, your vision for Africa.

Here at this summit, you’re going to engage with some of our nation’s leading voices, including someone who I know you can’t wait to see, which is Michelle Obama, because — (applause.)   But many members of Congress, who are strong supporters of this program, are also here.  Where are the members of Congress?  I know that we’ve got a few.  There you are.  (Applause.)  So some outstanding members of Congress are here.  You’ll get a chance to meet some of them.  And I know some of you are headed off to internships in some of our nation’s leading companies and organizations.  One of you said, “I will take what I’ve learned here and put it into practice back home.”  And that’s the whole idea.

And I want to say, by the way — I took some pictures with some of the university officials who had hosted all of you, and uniformly they said they could not have been more impressed with all of you, and what a great job you did in engaging and taking advantage of the program.  So, thank you.  (Applause.)

I know you’ve also been experiencing America as well, the places that make us who we are, including my hometown of Chicago. (Applause.)  You’ve experienced some of our traditions, like a block party.  (Laughter.)  You’ve experienced some of our food — Faith said she ate a lot of Texas barbeque when she was in Austin.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS:  Wooo!

THE PRESIDENT:  You really liked that barbeque, huh?  (Laughter.)  So you got the whole Longhorn thing going on and all that?  (Laughter.)

And Americans have been learning from you as well, because every interaction is a chance for Americans to see the Africa that so often is overlooked in the media — the Africa that is innovative and growing and dynamic.  And a new generation, all of you, on Facebook and Twitter, and creating new ways to connect — like Yookos and MXit.  I see some of you tweeting this town hall — (laughter) — although mostly I see these guys shifting into the seat over and over again so everybody can get a picture.  (Laughter.)  Don’t think I didn’t notice.  (Laughter.)  You all just — you need to stay in your chairs.  (Laughter.)  Everybody thinks they’re slick.  (Applause.)

So the point is, our young leaders — our Young African Leaders initiative is a long-term investment in all of you and in Africa and the future that we can build together.  And today, I want to announce some next steps that I think are important.

First, given the extraordinary demand for this fellows program, we’re going to double it so that in two years, we’ll welcome a thousand Mandela Washington fellows to the United States every year.  (Applause.)  So that’s good news.

Second, we’ll do even more to support young entrepreneurs with new grants to help you start a business or a nonprofit, and training thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs in smaller towns and rural areas.  And given the success for our annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, I can announce that next year’s summit will be hosted for the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa, which I think is going to be terrific.  (Applause.)

Third, we’re launching a whole new set of tools to empower young African through our YALI network — new online courses and mentoring, new ways to meet up and network across Africa and around the world, new training sessions and meetings with experts on how to launch startups.  And it all begins today.  And to get started, all you have to do is to go to Yali.state.gov — Yali.state.gov — and that will give you information about how you can access all these resources going forward.

And finally, we’re creating new regional leadership centers across Africa.  So we’re joining with American universities, African institutions, and private sector partners like Microsoft and MasterCard Foundation — we want to thank the two of them; they’re really helping to finance this.  So give Microsoft and MasterCard Foundation a round of applause.  (Applause.)  Starting next year, young Africans can come to these centers to network and access the latest technology, and get training in management and entrepreneurship.  And we’re starting in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.  (Applause.)  And we aim to help tens of thousands of young Africans access the skills and resources they need to put their ideas into action.

So the point of all of this is we believe in you.  I believe in you.  I believe in every one of you who are doing just extraordinary things — like Adepeuju Jaiyeoba.  (Applause.)  In Nigeria — there’s Adepeuju.  In Nigeria, she saw a close friend die during childbirth.  She now helps train birth attendants, and delivers kits with sterile supplies, and helping to save the lives of countless mothers and their babies.  So we want to thank Adepeuju.  (Applause.)  We want her to save even more lives.

Or, to give you another example, Robert Nkwangu from Uganda. (Applause.)  There’s Robert.  So Robert is deaf, but even though he can’t hear, he can see that the stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities must end.  (Applause.)  He’s been their champion.  He’s standing up for the rights in schools and on the job.  (Applause.)  So thank you, Robert.  We want to be your partner in standing up for the universal rights of all people.

I believe in Mame Bousso Ndiaye.  (Applause.)  So in Senegal, she’s taking a stand against the human trafficking that condemns too many women and girls to forced labor and sexual slavery.  She runs an academy that gives them education and skills to find a job and start new lives.  And so, we are so proud of you.  Thank you for the good work that you’re doing.  (Applause.)  We want to help you help these young women and girls to the kind of future of dignity that we want for every woman all across the continent and all around the world.

And I believe in Hastings Mkandawire.  Where’s Hastings?  (Applause.)  In rural Malawi, he saw towns in darkness, without electricity.  So now he gathers scrap metal, builds generators on his porch, takes them down to the stream for power, delivers electricity so farmers can irrigate their crops and children can study at night.  Hastings, thank you.  (Applause.)  We want to help you power Africa.  (Applause.)

And everybody here has a story, and we believe in all of you.  We see what’s possible.  And we see the vision that all of you have — not because of what you’ve seen here in America, but because what you’ve already done back home, what you see in each other and what you see in yourself.

Sobel Ngom, from Senegal.  (Applause.)  Sobel has a wonderful quote.  He has a wonderful quote.  He said, “Here, I have met Africa, the [Africa] I have always believed in.  She’s beautiful.  She’s young.  She’s full of talent and motivation and ambition.”  And that’s a good description.  (Applause.)  And being here with all of you, and learning together and working together and dreaming together has only strengthened his determination, he says, to realize “my aspirations for my country and my continent.”

So to Sobel and to all of you, and to everyone across Africa who joins our Young Leaders Initiative, I want to thank you for inspiring us with your talent and your motivation and your ambition.  You’ve got great aspirations for your countries and your continent.  And as you build that brighter future that you imagine, I want to make sure that the United States of America is going to be your friend and partner every step of the way.

So thank you very much, everybody.  Let’s get a few questions and comments in this town hall.  (Applause.)

So, okay, I know this is kind of a rowdy crowd.  (Laughter.) First of all, I want everybody to sit down.  Sit down.  Now, I’m not going to be able to call on everybody, so just a couple of rules.  Number one, don’t start standing up and waving or shouting.  Just raise your hand and I will try to select from the audience, and I’ll try to take as many questions as possible.  So let’s keep the questions — or comments relatively brief, and I will try to give a brief answer — although if you ask me what are we going to do about ending war, then that may require a longer answer.  So we’ll see how it goes.  So that’s rule number one.

Rule number two, we should have microphones in the audience, and so wait — when I call on you, wait until the microphone comes.  The attendant will hold it in front of you.  You can answer.  Please introduce yourself, tell us what country you’re from, and ask your question or make your remark.  Number two, just to make sure it’s fair, we’re going to go boy, girl, boy, girl.  (Laughter.)  In fact, you know what — in fact, we’re going to go girl, boy, girl, boy.  (Laughter.)  That’s what we’re going to do.  Because one of the things we want to teach about Africa is how strong the women are and how we’ve got to empower women.  (Applause.)

All right?  So let’s see who we’re going to call on first.  This young lady right here.  Right here.  So wait until the mic is there.  Here, there’s somebody right behind you who’s got the microphone.  Introduce yourself and — welcome.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’m from South Africa.  And my question is, previously Nelson Mandela had inspired the foundation of the South Africa Fund for Enterprises.  It has run for two decades, and it has since been stopped.  Is there any chance to develop another fund for enterprises in Africa?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it’s a great question.  One of the things that’s been interesting in not only some of the platforms that you developed at your universities, but also during my trips to Africa is the degree to which young Africans are less interested in aid and more interested in how can they create opportunity through business and entrepreneurship and trade.  Not to say that we do not need to deal with very serious challenges in terms of poverty.  We need to make sure that we are continuing to work on behalf of the least of these.  But what I think everybody recognizes is that if you want sustained development and sustained opportunity and sustained self-determination, then the key is to own what is produced, and to be able to create jobs and opportunity organically and indigenously, and then be able to meet the world on equal terms.

So part of the challenge in entrepreneurship is financing.  And for so many individuals across the continent, it’s just very difficult to get that initial startup money.  And the truth is, is that in many communities around Africa it’s not that you need so much, but you need something, that little seed capital.

And so what we’d like to do is to work with programs that are already existing, to find out where are the gaps in terms of financing, and then to make sure that we are utilizing the resources that we have in the most intelligent way possible to target young entrepreneurs to create small- and medium-sized businesses all across the continent that hopefully grow into large businesses.  And if we’re supplementing that kind of financing with the training and networking that may be available through YALI, then we could see the blossoming of all kinds of entrepreneurial activities all across the continent that eventually grow into larger businesses.

And so we are very interested in this.  This will be a primary focus of the summit that we have with the African leaders next week — how do we make sure that financing is available, and, by the way, how do we make sure that the financing does not just go to those who are already at the top; how do we make sure that it filters down.  You shouldn’t have to be the son of somebody or the daughter of somebody — (applause) — you should be able to get — if you’ve got a good idea, you should be able to test that idea and be judged on your own merits.

And that’s where I think we can help bypass what oftentimes is in, sadly, too many countries a system in which you have to know somebody in order to be able to finance your ideas.

One thing I do want to say, though — keep in mind, even in the United States, if you’re starting a business, it’s always hard getting financing.  So there are a lot of U.S. entrepreneurs and small business people, when they’re starting off, they’re borrowing from their brothers and their sisters, and begging and scratching and taking credit cards and they’re running up debt.  Inherently, there is risk involved.  And so I don’t want to give you anybody the illusion who is out there starting a business or wanting to launch a business that it’s going to be easy.  It will not be.

But there are ways where we can make a difference.  And oftentimes, particularly in rural areas of Africa, you don’t need a lot of capital to get started, right?  So you may be able — if you buy one piece of equipment that can increase yields for a whole bunch of farmers in that community, and then the additional profits that they make now allows you to buy two pieces of equipment, and then four, and then eight, you can grow fairly rapidly because the baseline of capital in that community may be relatively low.  So you don’t necessarily have huge barriers of entry.  You just have to make sure that you have that initial capital.

But of course, in communities like that, even a small amount of capital can be hard to come by.  And that’s why making sure that this is a top priority of our efforts is something that we’ll really emphasize.  Okay?

All right, let’s see — it’s a gentleman’s turn.  I’m going to call on this guy just because he’s so tall.  (Laughter.)  I always like — I like height.  (Laughter.)  There you go.  All right, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’m from Senegal.  President Obama is the first President of the United States of Africa.  (Applause.)  I would like to know can you share the two important issues you will discuss as the first President of the United Nation of Africa?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sorry, I’m the first African American President of the United States.  I wasn’t sure of — heads of state?  What are the top two issues that I’m going to be discussing when we’re in the summit tomorrow?

Q    If Africa becomes the United States of Africa —

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, I see.

Q    — and you get the chance to meet the first president.

THE PRESIDENT:  I see, okay.  All right, so this is sort of like a — it’s kind of an intellectual exercise.  If I were to discuss — no, no, now I understand your question.

Q    It’s clear?

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s an interesting question.  The idea is if somehow Africa unified into a United States of Africa, what would be something that I would say to him or her —

Q    Yes.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, I think the thing that I would emphasize first and foremost is the issue of governance.  Now, sometimes this is an issue that raises some sensitivities because I think people feel like who’s the United States to tell us how to govern.  We have different systems.  We have different traditions.  What may work for the United States may not work for us.  Oh, and by the way, the United States, we don’t see that Congress is always cooperating so well and your system is not perfect.

I understand all that.  So let’s acknowledge all that.  What I will say is this, that regardless of the resources a country possesses, regardless of how talented the people are, if you do not have a basic system of rule of law, of respect for civil rights and human rights, if you do not give people a credible, legitimate way to work through the political process to express their aspirations, if you don’t respect basic freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, if there are not laws in place in which everybody is equal under the law so that there’s not one set of rules for the well-connected and another set of rules for ordinary people, if you do not have an economic system that is transparent and accountable so that people trust that if they work hard they will be rewarded for their work and corruption is rooted out — if you don’t have those basic mechanisms, it is very rare for a country to succeed.

I will go further than that:  That country will not succeed over the long term.  It may succeed over the short term because it may have natural resources that it can extract, and it can generate enough money to then distribute and create patronage networks.  But over time, that country will decline.

And if you look at examples around the world, you’ll have a country like Singapore which has nothing — it’s a small, tiny, city-state with not a lot of — it has no real natural resources, and yet it’s taken off.  And you have other countries, which I won’t mention — (laughter) — that have incredible resources, but because there’s not a basic system of rule of law that people have confidence in, it never takes off and businesses never take root.

And so what I would emphasize is governance as a starting point.  It’s not alone sufficient.  You then also have to have over time infrastructure.  And you also have to have an education system that’s in place.  And there are all kinds of other elements that are necessary.  But if you don’t have the basic premise that ordinary citizens can succeed based on their individual efforts, that they don’t have to pay a bribe in order to start a business or even get a telephone, that they won’t be shaken down when they’re driving down the street because the police officers aren’t getting paid enough, and this is the accepted way to supplement their income — if you don’t have those things in place, then over time there’s no trust in the society.  People don’t have confidence that things are working the way that they should.  And so then everybody starts trying to figure out, okay, what’s my angle?  How am I going to get my thing?  And it creates a culture in which you can’t really take off.

Look, you’re never going to eliminate 100 percent of corruption.  Here in the United States, occasionally we have to throw people in jail for taking money for contracts or having done favors for politicians.  All that’s true.  But the difference here in the United States — and it’s true in many of the more developed, industrialized countries — is that’s more the aberration rather than the norm.

I mean, the truth is here in the United States, if you want to start a business, you go ahead and you file papers, you can incorporate.  You might have to pay a fee of $50 or $100 or whatever it ends up being, and that’s it.  You’ve got your business.  Now, the business might not be making any money at that point, you still got to do a whole bunch of stuff to succeed — but the point is, is that basically rule of law is observed.  That’s the norm.  That’s what happens 95 percent of the time.

And that’s I think where you have to start.  And that’s where young people I think have to have high expectations for their leadership.  And don’t be fooled by this notion that, well, we have a different way, an African way.  Well, no.  (Laughter.) The African way is not that you suddenly have a — you’ve been in office and then, suddenly, you have a Swiss bank account of $2 billion.  That’s not the African way.  (Applause.)

And part of rule of law, by the way, is also that leaders eventually give up power over time.  It doesn’t have to be the same way all the time.  But if you have entrenched leadership forever, then what happens over time is it just — you don’t get new ideas and new blood.  And it is inevitable I think sometimes that rule of law becomes less and less observed because people start being more concerned, about keeping their positions than doing the right thing.

Okay, great question, even though it took me a while to understand it.  (Laughter.)

So it’s a young lady’s turn.  Let me make sure that I’m not restricting myself to — how about that young lady right there.  Yes, you.  (Laughter.)  Hold on a second, the microphone is coming.

Q    Good morning, Mr. President.  I’m from Botswana.  I just wanted to find out how committed is the U.S. to assisting Africa in closing gender inequalities, which are contributing to gender-based violence, which it threatens the achievement of many Millennium Development goals, such as access to universal education, eradicating HIV and AIDS.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, listen, you will not find anybody more committed than I am to this issue, and let me tell you why.

First of all, I was mentioning earlier, if you look comparatively at countries around the world, what societies succeed, which ones don’t, one of the single-best measures of whether a country succeeds or not is how it treats its women.  (Applause.)  And if you think about it, it makes sense, because, first of all, women are half your population.  So if you have a team — we just finished the World Cup, right — if you have a soccer team — what you all call a football team — and you go out and the other side has a full team and you send out half your team, how are you going to do?  You will not do as well.

If you are not empowering half of your population that means you have half as few possible scientists, half as few possible engineers.  You are crippling your own development unnecessarily. So that’s point number one.

Point number two is if you educate and empower and respect a mother, then you are educating the children, right?  So with a man, you educate him, yeah, it’s okay.  (Laughter.)  A woman, you educate her, and suddenly you’ve got an entire village, an entire region, an entire country suddenly is becoming educated.

So this is an absolute priority for us.  And we’ll be discussing this with the heads of state and government that we see next week.  And we’ve seen some progress on some fronts, but this is where sometimes traditions can get in the way.

And as many of you know, my father was from Kenya, and — (applause) — that’s the Kenyan contingent.  (Laughter.)  But I think what applies to Kenya is true and applies to many of the countries in Africa — and this is not unique to Africa, we see this in other parts of the world — some of the old ways of gender relations might have made sense in a particular setting.  So in Kenya, for example, in the Luo tribe, polygamy existed.  It was based on the idea that women had their own compounds, they had their own land, and so they were empowered in that area to be self-sufficient.  And then urbanization happened; suddenly the men may be traveling to the city and suddenly there is another family in the city and the women who were left back in the villages may not be empowered in the same way.  So what worked then might not work today — in fact, does not work today.  And if you seek to — if you try to duplicate traditions that were based on an entirely different economy and an entirely different society and entirely different expectations, well, that’s going to break down.  It’s not going to work.

So as a continent, you have to update and create new traditions.  And that’s where young people come in.  You don’t have to accept what’s the old ways of doing things.  You can respect the past and respect traditions while while recognizing they have to be adapted to a new age.

Now, I have to say there are some traditions that just have to be gotten rid of and there’s no excuse for them.  Female genital mutilation — I’m sorry, I don’t consider that a tradition worth hanging on to.  (Applause.)  I think that’s a tradition that is barbaric and should be eliminated.  Violence towards women — I don’t care for that tradition.  I’m not interested in it.  It needs to be eliminated.  (Applause.)

So part of the task is to find what traditions are worth hanging on to and what traditions you got to get rid of.  I mean, there was a tradition in medicine that if you were sick, they would bleed you.  That’s a bad tradition.  And we discovered, let’s try other things — like medicine.  (Laughter.)  So we don’t have to cling on to things that just don’t work.  And subjugating women does not work, and the society will fail as a consequence.  (Applause.)

So everything we do, every program that we have — any education program that we have, any health program that we have, any small business or economic development program that we have, we will write into it a gender equality component to it.  This is not just going to be some side note.  This will be part of everything that we do.

And the last point I’m going to make — in order for this to be successful, all the men here have to be just as committed to empowering women as the women are.  (Applause.)  That’s important.  So don’t think that this is just a job for women, to worry about women’s issues.  The men have to worry about it.  And if you’re a strong man, you should not feel threatened by strong women.  (Applause.)

All right.  So we’ve got gentleman’s turn.  This gentleman in this bright tie right here.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Your Excellency.  I’m coming from Kenya.

THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, habari?

Q    Mzuri sana.  (Applause.)  Asante sana (Swahili) opportunity.

Africa is losing her people to starvation and diseases, which are otherwise curable.  And this is largely because our governments are establishing very huge debts to the G8 countries. As a global leader in the family of nations, when will the U.S. lead the other G8 countries in forgiving Africa these debts so that our governments can be in a position to deliver and provide essential services, like social, health care, and the infrastructural development services to our people?  (Applause.) Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, let me make a couple of points on this.  First of all, I think it’s important to recognize on issues of health the significant progress that has been made — because I think sometimes we are so properly focused on the challenges that we forget to remind ourselves how far we’ve come. And when you know how far you’ve come, it gives you confidence about how much further you can go.

So over the last 20 years, HIV occurrence has been cut in half in Africa — half.  Tuberculosis and malaria deaths have been reduced by 40 percent and 30 percent respectively; 50 percent fewer women die giving birth; 50 million children’s lives have been spared.  And most importantly, now what we’re doing is not just providing assistance through programs like PEPFAR, but we’re also empowering governments themselves to begin to set up public health infrastructure and networks, and training nurses and clinicians and specialists so that it becomes self-sufficient.  So we’re making progress.

Now, I think there is a legitimate discussion to be had around debt forgiveness.  And in meetings with what now is the G7, I just want to let you know — (laughter) — but that’s a whole other topic that — (laughter) — we don’t want to get too far afield — I think there’s genuine openness to how can we help make sure that countries are not saddled with debts that may have been squandered by past leaders, but now hamstrung countries — are making countries unable to get out from under the yoke of those debts.

The only thing I will do, though, is I will challenge the notion that the primary reason that there’s been a failure of service delivery is because of onerous debt imposed by the West. Let me say something that may be somewhat controversial.  And I’m older than all of you — that I know.  (Laughter.)  By definition, if you’re my age you’re not supposed to be in this program.  (Laughter.)  You lied about your age.  (Laughter.)  When I was a college student, issues of dependency and terms of trade and the legacy of colonialism, those were all topics of great, fervent discussion.  And there is no doubt that, dating back to the colonial era, you can trace many of the problems that have plagued the continent — whether it’s how lines were drawn without regard to natural boundaries and tribal and ethnic relationships; whether you look at all the resources that were extracted and the wealth that was extracted without any real return to the nature of trade as it developed in the ‘60s and the ‘70s, so that value was never actually produced in country, but was sent somewhere else.  There are all kinds of legitimate arguments you can look at in terms of history that impeded African development.

But at some point, we have to stop looking somewhere else for solutions, and you have to start looking for solutions, internally.  And as powerful as history is and you need to know that history, at some point, you have to look to the future and say, okay, we didn’t get a good deal then, but let’s make sure that we’re not making excuses for not going forward.

And the truth is, is that there’s not a single country in Africa — and by the way, this is true for the United States as well — that with the resources it had could not be doing better. So there are a lot of countries that are generating a lot of wealth.  I’m not going to name any, but you can guess.  This is a well-educated crowd.  There are a lot of countries that are generating a lot of income, have a lot of natural resources, but aren’t putting that money back into villages to educate children. There are a lot of countries where the leaders have a lot of resources, but the money is not going back to provide health clinics for young mothers.

So, yes, I think it’s important for Western countries and advanced countries to look at past practices — if loans have been made to countries that weren’t put into productive enterprises by those leaders at that time, those leaders may be long gone but countries are still unable to dig themselves out from under those debts — can we strategically in pin-point fashion find ways to assist and provide some relief.  That’s a legitimate discussion.  But do not think that that is the main impediment at this point to why we have not seen greater progress in many countries, because there’s enough resources there in-country, even if debts are being serviced, to do better than we’re doing in many cases.

Okay, so it’s a young lady’s turn.  I haven’t gotten anybody way back in the back there.  So how about that young lady right there with the glasses.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  My name is Zu (ph).

THE PRESIDENT:  Zu? (ph).  I like that name.

Q    Yes, from Madagascar.

THE PRESIDENT:  From?

Q    Madagascar.

THE PRESIDENT:  Madagascar.

Q    It’s a great honor for me, Mr. President, to thank you on behalf of the Malagasy people to reintegrate Madagascar last month in the AGOA.  And my question is, at it will end on 2015, we want to have your confirmation right here what will happen after 2015.  We all know that the AGOA was a great way to decrease youth unemployment in our country, so what will happen after this, the end?  Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  So AGOA, for those of you — I think everybody here is probably aware — this is one of the primary tools we have to promote trade between the United States and many African countries.  It’s set to expire.  There’s a negotiation process taking place as we speak.  More progress will be made next week.  I think that we’ve learned some lessons about what works and what doesn’t through the first stage of AGOA.  In some cases, what we’ve discovered is, is that many countries can’t — even if they have no tariff barriers that they’re experiencing, they still have problems in terms of getting their goods to market.  And so part of what we’re trying to do is to find ways in which we can lower some of the other barriers to export for African countries — not just the tariffs issue, but how can we make sure that there is greater transportation networks; how can we make sure that trade financing is in place; what are the other mechanisms that may inhibit exports from African countries.  So that’s the first thing.

On a separate track, part of what we’re also trying to figure out is how can we promote inter-African trade.  Because so often — and this does relate to a legacy of the past and colonialism — you have strong infrastructure to send flowers from Kenya to Paris, but it’s very hard to send tea from Kenya down to Tanzania — much closer, but the infrastructure is not built.  And so part of what we have to do is to try to find ways to integrate Africa.

Much of that is a question of infrastructure.  Some of it has to do with coordinating regulatory systems between countries. We’re embarking on some experiments starting in East Africa to see if we can get Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania — see, you guys know all of them.  (Laughter.)  We’re starting to work with these countries to see can we get some blocks of effective trading taking place.

Because, look, obviously there’s going to be a certain market for certain goods — I mentioned flowers from Kenya.  The market — that’s primarily going to be in some of the wealthier countries.  But there are going to be some goods that it’s going to be much easier to sell.  If I’m a Kenyan businessman, it’s going to be easier for me to sell my goods to a Tanzanian or a Ugandan than it is for me to try to compete with Nike or Apple in the United States.  Right?

And historically, when you look at how trade develops — if you look at Asia, for example, which obviously has grown extraordinarily fast — a huge volume of that trade is within the region first, and then over time that becomes a launching pad from which to trade globally.

So this is an area where I think we can also provide some assistance and help.  But just to answer directly your question, we are very strongly committed to making sure that AGOA is reauthorized.  And obviously, we’ve got a bunch of members of Congress here who care about this deeply, as well.

How much time do we have, by the way?  I just want to make sure — he said, one hour.  (Laughter.)  Okay, I think we’ve got time for two more questions.

AUDIENCE:  Awww —

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’m sorry, but — (laughter.)  So it’s a gentleman’s turn.  Let me see — this gentleman in the white right here.  That guy right there.  Hold on one second, let’s get a microphone on him.

Q    Hi, I’m from Liberia.  It is a pleasure meeting you, Mr. President.  My question has to do with the issue of antitrust law.  You will be meeting our leaders next week.  Will you discuss the issue of antitrust law that will protect young entrepreneurs in Africa?  If not, are you willing to include it on your agenda, please, to solve our problems back home?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, obviously, each country is different, and I’ll be honest with you, I’m not familiar with the antitrust laws in every country.  But what I would certainly commit to do is to talk about antitrust in the broader context of what I said at the beginning after maybe the first question, and that is the issue of rule of law and how it interacts with the economy.

If you have monopolies or collusion between a few companies that create artificial barriers to new entrants, then economic theory will tell you that invariably that is inefficient.  It means consumers are going to pay more for worse products.  It means those companies can concentrate more and more wealth without actually improving what they produce.  And over time, the economy stagnates.

And here in the United States we had a history of huge, big, corporations controlling huge sectors of the economy.  And over time, we put in laws to break up those monopolies and to create laws to guard against artificial monopolies that prevented competition.

So antitrust is one element of a broader set of laws and principles that every country should be adopting with the basic notion that, look, if you’re successful — if you are a company like Apple that innovated, or a company like Microsoft that came up with a new concept — you should be able to get big and you should be able to be successful, and those who founded it, like Bill Gates, should be wealthy.  But what you also want to make sure of is the next generation — the Googles or the Facebooks — that they can be successful, too, in that space.  And that means that you have to make sure that those who got there first aren’t closing the door behind them, which all too often I think happens in many countries, not just in African countries.

So you make an excellent point, and we’ll make sure that that’s incorporated into the broader discussion.

Okay, this young lady right here.  Yes, because she looks so nice.  (Laughter.)

Q    Thank you very much.  I’m from Kenyan.

THE PRESIDENT:  We got a Maasai sister right here.  (Laughter.)  That’s it.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you for this great initiative for the young people, and thank you for believing in the young people.

The upcoming summit of the Presidents, I know you’re going to ask them on engagement of the young people back in our countries.  And my concern will be, how will you be able to engage them to commit to their promises?  Because I know they’re going to promise you that.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, don’t get carried away here.  (Laughter.)  Well, look, part of what we’ve done here by building this YALI network that we’re going to be doubling over the next couple of years is we’re going directly to the young people and creating these networks and these opportunities.  And what we’re already seeing, I think, is many countries are excited by this.  They’re saying, you know what, this is something that can be an empowering tool for us, so let’s take advantage of it.

There are going to be some that may feel somewhat threatened by it — there’s no doubt about that.  But the good thing is we will be creating this network — there are a whole bunch of people who are following this online, who are following it on social media.  We’ll have these regional centers.  You will help to make sure that some of these promises are observed, because the whole continent of young people is going to be paying attention, and we’ll be able to see which countries are really embracing this opportunity to get new young people involved, and which ones are ignoring its promise.

And so I will say to every one of these leaders, you need to take advantage of the most important resource you have, and that’s the amazing youth in these countries.  (Applause.)  But you’re going to have to also help to hold them accountable collectively across countries, and that’s part of why this network can be so important.

So I know this is sad, but I have to go.

AUDIENCE:  Awww —

THE PRESIDENT:  I have other work to do.  (Laughter.)  The good news is you’ve got all these really amazing people who are still going to be meeting with you and talking with you.  And, most importantly, what an amazing opportunity it is for all of you to get to know each other, and to talk and to compare ideas and share concepts going forward.

The main message I want to leave you with is that, in the same way I’m inspired by you, you should be inspired by each other; that Africa has enormous challenges — the world has enormous challenges, but I tell the young people that intern in the White House — and I usually meet with them at the end of their internship after six months — I always tell them, despite all the bad news that you read about or you see on television, despite all the terrible things that happen in places around the world, if you had to choose a time in world history in which to be born, and you didn’t know who you were or what your status or position would be, you’d choose today.  Because for all the difficulties, the world has made progress and Africa is making progress.  And it’s growing.  And there are fewer conflicts and there’s less war.  And there’s more opportunity, and there’s greater democracy, and there’s greater observance of human rights.

And progress sometimes can be slow, and it can be frustrating.  And sometimes, you take two steps forward, and then you take one step back.  But the great thing about being young is you are not bound by the past, and you can shape the future.  And if all of you work hard and work together, and remain confident in your possibilities, and aren’t deterred when you suffer a setback, but you get back up, and you dust yourself off, and you go back at it, I have no doubt that you’re going to leave behind for the next generation and the generation after that an Africa that is strong and vibrant and prosperous, and is ascendant on the world stage.

So I can’t wait to see what all of you do.  Good luck.  (Applause.)

END
12:14 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 21, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Signing of Executive Order on LGBT Workplace Discrimination

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Signing of Executive Order on LGBT Workplace Discrimination

Source: WH, 7-21-14 

East Room

10:39 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Welcome to the White House, everybody.  I know I’m a little late.  But that’s okay because we’ve got some big business to do here.

Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day coming.  You organized, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you sent letters — I know because I got a lot of them.  (Laughter.) And now, thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government — government of the people, by the people, and for the people — will become just a little bit fairer.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Amen.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It doesn’t make much sense, but today in America, millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are —  lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.  And that’s wrong.  We’re here to do what we can to make it right — to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction.

In a few moments, I will sign an executive order that does two things.  First, the federal government already prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Once I sign this order, the same will be explicitly true for gender identity.  (Applause.)

And second, we’re going to prohibit all companies that receive a contract from the federal government from discriminating against their LGBT employees.  (Applause.)    America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people.

Now, this executive order is part of a long bipartisan tradition.  President Roosevelt signed an order prohibiting racial discrimination in the national defense industry.  President Eisenhower strengthened it.  President Johnson expanded it.  Today, I’m going to expand it again.

Currently, 18 states have already banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  And over 200 cities and localities have done the same.  Governor Terry McAuliffe is here; his first act as governor was to prohibit discrimination against LGBT employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  (Applause.)  Where did Terry go?  Right back here.

I’ve appointed a record number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender public servants to positions across my administration.  They are ambassadors and federal judges, special assistants, senior advisors from the Pentagon to the Labor Department.  Every day, their talent is put to work on behalf of the American people.

Equality in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it turns out to be good business.  That’s why a majority of Fortune 500 companies already have nondiscrimination policies in place.  It is not just about doing the right thing — it’s also about attracting and retaining the best talent.  And there are several business leaders who are here today who will attest to that.

And yet, despite all that, in too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fireable offense.  There are people here today who’ve lost their jobs for that reason.  This is not speculative, this is not a matter of political correctness — people lose their jobs as a consequence of this.  Their livelihoods are threatened, their families are threatened.  In fact, more states now allow same-sex marriage than prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers.  So I firmly believe that it’s time to address this injustice for every American.

Now, Congress has spent 40 years — four decades — considering legislation that would help solve the problem.  That’s a long time.  And yet they still haven’t gotten it done.  Senators Terry [Tammy] Baldwin and Jeff Merkley are here.  They have been champions of this issue for a long, long time.  We are very proud of them.  I know they will not stop fighting until fair treatment for all workers is the federal law of the land.  Everyone thanks them for that.  (Applause.)

But I’m going to do what I can, with the authority I have, to act.  The rest of you, of course, need to keep putting pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation that resolves this problem once and for all.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Amen!

THE PRESIDENT:  Amen.  Amen.  (Applause.)  Got the “amen” corner here.  (Laughter.)  Well — (sings) — (laughter.)  You don’t want to get me preaching, now.  (Laughter.)

For more than two centuries, we have strived, often at great cost, to form “a more perfect union” — to make sure that “we, the people” applies to all the people.  Many of us are only here because others fought to secure rights and opportunities for us. And we’ve got a responsibility to do the same for future generations.  We’ve got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love — no matter what, you can make it in this country.

That’s the story of America.  That’s the story of this movement.  I want to thank all of you for doing your part.  We’ve got a long way to go, but I hope as everybody looks around this room, you are reminded of the extraordinary progress that we have made not just in our lifetimes, but in the last five years.  In the last two years.  (Applause.)  In the last one year.  (Applause.)  We’re on the right side of history.

I’m going to sign this executive order.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

(The executive order is signed.)

END
10:47 A.M. EDT

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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

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

By Bonnie K. Goodman

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

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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

Source: WH, 4-11-14

Sheraton New York Hotel
New York, New York

4:02 P.M. EDT

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

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END
4:26 P.M. EDT

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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

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

By Bonnie K. Goodman

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

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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

Source: WH, 2-27-14

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

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

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

Source: WH, 2-27-14

East Room

3:43 P.M. EST

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

AUDIENCE:  Good afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END
4:17 P.M. EST

%d bloggers like this: