Obama’s 2017 Budget Aims at ‘Meeting Our Greatest Challenges’; Congressional GOP Says Don’t Bother

President Obama's 2017 budget reflects the initiatives he discussed in the State of the Union: the need to invest in infrastructure, education, research and development, climate action and the transition to clean, renewable energy. House Speaker Paul Ryan says the President's budget is dead on arrival © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama’s 2017 budget reflects the initiatives he discussed in the State of the Union: the need to invest in infrastructure, education, research and development, climate action and the transition to clean, renewable energy. House Speaker Paul Ryan says the President’s budget is dead on arrival © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Congressional Republicans have snubbed the President, refusing to even invite his representative to discuss his FY 2017 federal budget (See New York Times, Congressional Republicans Balk at Obama’s Budget, Sight Unseen”). It’s unprecedented. Here’s an overview from the White House of what is in it, how it addresses the great challenges this country faces – the imperative for climate action, infrastructure investment, job growth, income inequality, restoring opportunity – and see what you think:

FACT SHEET: The President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget: Overview

Meeting Our Greatest Challenges

Under the President’s leadership, we have turned our economy around and created 14 million jobs. Our unemployment rate is below five percent for the first time in almost eight years. Nearly 18 million people have gained health coverage as the Affordable Care Act has taken effect. And we have dramatically cut our deficits by almost three-quarters and set our Nation on a more sustainable fiscal path.

Yet while it is important to take stock of our progress, this Budget is not about looking back at the road we have traveled. It is about looking forward and making sure our economy works for everybody, not just those at the top. It is about choosing investments that not only make us stronger today, but also reflect the kind of country we aspire to be – the kind of country we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren.

The Budget makes critical investments in our domestic and national security priorities while adhering to the bipartisan budget agreement signed into law last fall, and it lifts sequestration in future years so that we continue to invest in our economic future and our national security. It also drives down deficits and maintains our fiscal progress through smart savings from health care, immigration, and tax reforms.

The Budget shows that the President and the Administration remain focused on meeting our greatest challenges – including accelerating the pace of innovation to tackle climate change and find new treatments for devastating diseases; giving everyone a fair shot at opportunity and economic security; and advancing our national security and global leadership – not only for the year ahead, but for decades to come.

BUILDING ON OUR ECONOMIC AND FISCAL PROGRESS

The Budget makes critical investments while adhering to the bipartisan budget agreement signed into law last fall. It lifts sequestration in 2018 and beyond so that we continue to invest in our economic future and our national security. It also drives down deficits and maintains our fiscal progress through smart savings from health care, immigration, and tax reforms. 

A Record of Job Growth and Economic Expansion. Under the President’s leadership, the U.S. economy has become an engine of job growth and economic expansion, outpacing other advanced economies in recovery from the Great Recession. American businesses have added 14 million jobs over the past 71 months – the longest streak of job growth on record. Our unemployment rate is below five percent for the first time in almost eight years. And the economy added 903,000 new manufacturing jobs in the last six years – the first sustained job growth in the sector since the 1990s. Nearly 18 million Americans have gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and our high school graduation rate is at an all-time high.

Reflecting on Our Fiscal Progress. We have made remarkable economic and fiscal progress, showing what’s possible when strategic investment to grow our economy is paired with smart reforms, for example to our health care system, that address the true drivers of our long-term fiscal challenges. Since 2009, under the President’s leadership, Federal deficits have fallen by nearly three-quarters – the most rapid sustained defi­cit reduction since just after World War II. The annual deficit in 2015 fell to 2.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the lowest level since 2007, and well below the average of the last 40 years.

Building on Our Success for a Stronger Economy. The President’s Budget continues that approach, investing in America’s future and laying out a path to address our greatest challenges. It builds on the bipartisan budget agreement secured last fall, adhering to the discretionary levels provided for 2017, while also putting forward paid-for mandatory investments that are critical to building durable economic growth in the future and maintaining America’s edge as the leader in innovation and cutting-edge science. The Budget proposes a number of reforms – including a detailed international tax reform plan – that would modernize the business tax code to make it fairer and more efficient, and to create jobs. The Budget also finishes the job the past two bipartisan agreements started by preventing the return of harmful sequestration funding levels in 2018 and beyond, replacing the savings by closing tax loopholes and reforming tax expenditures, and with smart spending reforms.

Investing in Economic Growth While Maintaining Fiscal Responsibility. The Budget more than pays for all new investments, achieving $2.9 trillion of deficit reduction over 10 years, from health, tax, and immigration reforms, and other proposals. The Budget includes roughly $375 billion of health savings that grow over time and builds on the ACA with further incentives to improve qual­ity and control health care cost growth. The Budget achieves more than $955 billion in deficit reduction from reducing tax benefits for high-income households, helping to bring in sufficient revenues to make vital investments while also helping to meet our promises to seniors.  The Budget reflects the President’s support for commonsense, comprehensive immigration reform along the lines of the 2013 bipartisan Senate-passed bill, which CBO has estimated would reduce the deficit by about $170 billion over 10 years and by almost $1 trillion over two decades.

The Budget keeps deficits below three percent of GDP while stabilizing debt and putting it on a declining path for most of the next decade – key measures of fiscal progress – showing that investments in growth and opportunity are compatible with putting the Nation’s finances on a strong and sustainable path.

INNOVATION TO FORGE A BETTER FUTURE

The Budget invests in accelerating the pace of American innovation, so we can create jobs and build the economy of the future while tackling our greatest challenges, including addressing climate change and finding new treatments and cures for devastating diseases. The Budget includes investments in: 

Building a 21st Century Transportation System. The Budget invests $320 billion over 10 years in a multi-agency initiative to build a clean transportation system for the 21st Century that speeds goods to market while reducing America’s reliance on oil, cutting carbon pollution, and strengthening our resilience to the effects of the changing climate.  Overall, the 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan will increase American investments in clean transportation infrastructure by roughly 50 percent above current levels while reforming the transportation investments already being made to move America to more sustainable, low-carbon investments. 

Prioritizing Research and Development. The Budget sustains the Administration’s consistent prioritization of R&D with an invest­ment of $152 billion for R&D overall through both discretionary and mandatory funding proposals, a four percent increase from 2016. 

  • Doubling Clean Energy R&D. Since the President took office, the Administration has made the largest investments in clean energy in American history. The Budget provides $7.7 billion government-wide, a 20 percent increase over 2016, for fundamental and transformative clean energy R&D across 12 agencies, a first step in support of Mission Innovation, the landmark agreement currently among 20 countries to double government funding for clean energy R&D over five years.
  • Supporting Basic Research. The Budget provides $14.6 billion in 2017, an increase of over $900 million over the 2016 enacted level, for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which invest in basic research – the type of R&D that is most likely to have spillover impacts to multiple endeavors and in which the private sector typically underinvests. 
  • Supporting a Cancer Moonshot. During his 2016 State of the Union Address, President Obama called on Vice President Biden to lead a new, national “Moonshot” initiative to eliminate cancer as we know it.  The Budget supports this effort with a $1 billion initiative to provide the funding necessary for researchers to accelerate the development of new cancer detection and treatments.  This includes $195 million in new cancer activities at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Fiscal Year 2016, $755 million in mandatory funds in the 2017 Budget for new cancer-related research activities at both NIH and the Food and Drug Administration, and support from other agencies such as the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. 
  • Advancing Biomedical Research. The Budget provides $33.1 billion to support biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), providing about 10,000 new and competing NIH grants that will help us better understand the fundamental causes and mechanisms of disease, like the BRAIN Initiative and Precision Medicine.
  • Revitalizing American Manufacturing. The Budget invests in coordinated, cutting-edge manufacturing R&D, while also expanding industry-driven workforce training and providing additional resources through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to help America’s small manufacturers access the technology and expertise they need to expand. It includes investments to grow the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation, a national network of innovative R&D centers to help keep U.S. manufacturing in the lead on technology. 
  • Creating the Industries and Jobs of the Future.  The Budget invests in R&D that can help create the industries and jobs of the future, such as supercomputing, Big Data, robotics, advanced materials, nanotechnology, and synthetic biology. In addition, the Budget makes new investments to sustain America’s leading edge in the development of autonomous vehicle technologies and self-driving cars.
  • Investing in Civil Space Activities. The Budget provides robust funding to support space exploration, monitor the Earth’s weather and climate from space, develop new space technologies, and partner with the private sector to reinforce the Nation’s leadership and take the next step on the journey to Mars.
  • Addressing Challenges in Agriculture through R&D.Recognizing the importance of science and technology to meet challenges in agriculture, the Budget invests in three major ar­eas of agricultural R&D: the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive research grants; the Agricultural Research Service intramural research; and construction and renovation of key infrastructure investments based on the Department of Agriculture’s facility modernization plan.
  • Simplifying and Expanding the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit. The Research and Experimentation (R&E) Tax Credit is an important Federal incentive for private-sector research investments, and last year, the President signed legislation to make the credit permanent and expand the incentive for R&D investments by small businesses. The Budget simplifies and expands the tax credit for companies investing in innovation. 

Protecting and Expanding the Nation’s Water Supply. The Budget supports the Administration’s two-part water innovation strategy to boost water sustainability and reduce the price and energy costs of new water supply technology to increase the resilience of our Nation’s water supplies to stressors like climate change and population growth, among others.

Supporting Adoption of Clean Energy. In addition to Mission Innovation funding, the Budget provides over $1.3 billion to accelerate the adoption of clean energy sources such as solar, wind, and low-carbon fossil fuels, and energy-efficiency technologies.

Partnering with Communities to Tackle Climate Risk. The Budget invests in programs that advance our scientific understanding of projected climate impacts, including changes in droughts, wildland fires, and coastal and inland flooding; assist communities in planning and preparing for future risks; and support risk-reduction and adaptation projects on the ground.

Protecting and Preserving Public Lands and Oceans. The Budget includes robust funding to support proven programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund that allow Federal agencies and their partners to enhance the resilience of our lands and waters, and continue to preserve and share our cultural and historical identity.

Leading Global Efforts to Cut Carbon Pollution and Enhance Climate Change Resilience. In support of the President’s Climate Action Plan, the Budget provides $1.3 billion to advance the goals of the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI) through important multilateral and bilateral engagement with major and emerging economies. This amount includes $750 million in U.S. funding for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which will help developing countries leverage public and private financing to invest in reducing carbon pollution and strengthening resilience to climate change.

OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL 

As the President stated in the 2016 State of the Union Address, one of the Nation’s key challenges is how to give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and economic security. In today’s global economy, our competitiveness depends on tapping the full potential of all Americans. To address this challenge, the Budget supports education; training and support for workers and their families; access to health care; and other investments to ensure that all Americans contribute to and benefit from our economic growth.

Improving Access to High-Quality Child Care and Early Education.High-quality child care and early education for young children support parents in the workforce and help foster healthy child development and school readiness. The Budget aims to ensure that children have access to high-quality learning starting at birth by:

  • Expanding access to quality child care for working families. The Budget ensures that all low- and moderate-income working families with young children have access to quality, affordable child care, as opposed to the small share of children who receive this help today. Overall, this will expand access to high-quality care for more than 1.1 million additional children under age four by 2026.
  • Cutting taxes for families paying for child care with a credit of up to $3,000 per child. The Budget triples the maximum Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) for families with children under age five and makes the full CDCTC available to families with incomes of up to $120,000, benefiting families with young children, older children, and dependents who are elderly or have disabilities.
  • Increasing the duration of Head Start programs, while maintaining access to Head Start. The Budget includes $9.6 billion for Head Start, an increase of $434 million over 2016 enacted. Within this total, the Budget provides an additional $292 million in 2017 to increase the number of children attending Head Start in a full school-day and -year program, which research shows is more effective than programs of shorter duration and also helps meet the needs of working parents.
  • Supporting universal preschool. The Preschool for All initiative, in partnership with the States, provides all four-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families with access to high-quality preschool, while encouraging States to expand those programs to reach additional children from middle-class families and establish full-day kindergarten policies.  The Budget increases funding for Preschool Development Grants (PDGs), which lay the groundwork for universal preschool. With the support of Federal funding made available through the PDG program, 18 States are currently developing and expanding high-quality preschool programs in targeted, high-need communities.
  • Investing in voluntary, evidence-based home visiting. The Budget extends and expands evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs, which enable nurses, social workers, and other professionals to connect families to services to support children’s healthy development and learning.
  • Invests in early learning for children with disabilities. The Budget provides increased funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Preschools Grants and the IDEA Infants and Families program, an increase of $80 million compared to 2016, including funding to help identify, develop and scale-up evidence-based practices for early identification of and intervention for learning and developmental delays. 

Putting All Students on a Path to College and Careers. We have made significant progress in expanding educational opportunities and we are getting results: high school graduation rates are up, drop-out rates are down, and far more students are attending college than in 2008. But there’s more we must do to ensure that all children get a high-quality education that allows them to reach their full potential.  The Budget focuses on providing equity and opportunity for all students in elementary and secondary education and expanding college opportunity and quality by:

  • Helping Students Prepare for College and Careers. The Budget increases funding for Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies, the cornerstone of Federal efforts to ensure that all students, including poor and minority students, students with disabilities, and English learners, graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.
  • Supporting Computer Science for All. The Budget invests $4 billion in mandatory funding over three years for the new Computer Science for All initiative, which would support State efforts to expand access for all students to computer science instruction and programs of study. The Budget invests discretionary resources in a Computer Science for All Development Grants program for school districts to promote innovative strategies to provide high-quality instruction and other learning opportunities in computer science. 
  • Providing Tuition-Free Community College for Responsible Students. The Budget funds America’s College Promise (ACP), which would create a new partnership with States to make two years of community college free for responsible students, letting students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree and acquire skills needed in the workforce at no cost. America’s College Promise would also provide grants to four-year HBCUs and MSIs to provide first-time low-income students, including community college transfers, with up to two years of college at zero or significantly reduced tuition.
  • Strengthening Pell Grants. Pell Grants are central to our efforts to help low- and moderate- income students afford college. The Budget supports and encourages on-time and accelerated completion through year-round Pell availability to low-income students who have completed a full-time course load and through a $300 increase in the maximum Pell Grant for students who take 15 or more credits. The Budget also continues to index the grant to inflation indefinitely for future generations. The Second Chance Pell proposal expands opportunity to incarcerated individuals eligible for release with the goals of helping them get jobs and strengthen their communities.
  • Simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The Budget eliminates burdensome and unnecessarily complex student aid application questions to make it easier for students and families to access Federal student aid and afford a college education.
  • Simplifying and expanding education tax benefits. The Budget streamlines and expands education tax benefits by consolidating the Lifetime Learning Credit into an expanded American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which would be available for five years and refundable up to $1,500; exempting Pell Grants from taxation and the AOTC calculation; and eliminating tax on student loan debt forgiveness, while repealing the complicated student loan interest deduction for new borrowers. 

Helping Workers Get the Skills They Need for the 21st Century Economy. A nation’s ability to ensure a steady and consistent pipeline of highly skilled workers is one key ingredient to helping its economy grow and thrive.  One of the surest paths to ensuring that the economy works for everyone is to expand access to job training and education for in-demand skills.  The Budget supports this agenda by:

  • Expanding Technical Training Programs for Middle Class Jobs. The Budget proposes a new American Technical Training Fund to provide competitive grants to support evidence-based, tuition-free job training programs in high-demand fields. 
  • Expanding the Proven Learn-and-Earn Strategy of Apprenticeship. The Budget establishes a $2 billion mandatory Apprenticeship Training Fund to help meet the President’s goal to double the number of apprentices across the United States, giving more workers the opportunity to develop job-relevant skills while earning a paycheck.
  • Creating a Talent Compact to Keep and Attract Jobs to the United States. The Budget includes $3 billion in competitive funding to create more than 50 “Talent Hotspots” across the United States that would prioritize a sector and make a commitment to recruit and train the workforce to help local businesses grow and thrive, attract more jobs from overseas, and fuel the talent needs of entrepreneurs. This proposal would produce a pipeline of about half a million skilled workers over the next five years.
  • Empowering Workers, Training Providers, and Employers with Better Information on Jobs, Skills and Training.  The Budget proposes a new Workforce Data Science and Innovation Fund that would recruit to the Department of Labor (DOL) a best-in-class team to help States find new ways to use technology and data analytics to improve training programs and consumer choice. And similar to HHS’s Open Health Data Initiative, DOL would partner with the Department of Commerce to develop new open source data on jobs and skills to spur the creation of new products to help match workers to better jobs.
  • Opening Doors to a First Job for More Young Americans. The Budget invests $5.5 billion in mandatory funding to help more than one million young people gain the work experience, skills and networks that come from having a first job.
  • Creating Pathways to High-Growth Jobs. The Budget builds on the progress in the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) by funding the core DOL WIOA formula grants at their full authorized level and by investing $3 billion in mandatory competitive funding for regional partnerships that bring together employers, education and training providers, and workforce boards with the goal of training a half million people and placing them into jobs in high-demand sectors.
  • Investing in Health Professions Education to Improve Access to Health Care Providers and Services. The Budget invests in growing the health care workforce, including expanding and extending funding for the National Health Service Corps through FY 2020 to increase the number of providers serving in the areas across the country that need them most.

Helping Americans Thrive in the 21st Century Economy. The Budget invests in programs that help ensure workers in the 21st century economy can balance work and family obligations, stay healthy, save for retirement, and are protected during temporary periods of unemployment and upon return to work. The Budget also supports evidence-based efforts to reduce poverty and help those who are struggling to get back on their feet. 

  • Tax Reform that Promotes Growth and Opportunity. The Budget’s tax proposals support work by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without qualifying children, and creating a Second Earner Tax Credit for married couples in which both spouses work.  
  • Strengthening Efforts to Help Low-Income Families Succeed.The Budget funds proposals designed to reduce poverty, assist families in deep poverty or experiencing a financial crisis, and improve efforts to help parents find and keep jobs. These proposals include establishing an Emergency Aid and Service Connection Grants program, strengthening the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), creating a permanent Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children program, expanding opportunity for Native American Youth, and building on current efforts to better serve Native youth.
  • Expanding Paid Leave. The Budget encourages States to establish paid leave programs, providing more than $2 billion for the Paid Leave Partnership Initiative to help up to five States launch paid family and medical leave programs, as well as small grants to help States and localities conduct analyses to inform the development of paid family and medical leave programs. These investments complement the President’s executive actions to expand paid sick leave for employees of Federal contractors.
  • Modernizing the Unemployment Insurance Safety Net. The Budget proposes a cost-neutral set of reforms to strengthen and modernize the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program to reflect the modern economy and workforce. These reforms ensure more hardworking Americans have access to UI if they lose a job, provide new protections for workers who take a pay cut in order to get back into work, strengthen the program’s connection to work, make the program more responsive to economic downturns, and ensure State programs have enough resources to protect workers in the midst of a recession. 
  • Helping All Workers Save for Retirement. The Budget includes a package of proposals aimed at increasing access to retirement plans and increasing the portability of retirement savings and benefits.  These proposals aim to ensure near-universal access to workplace retirement savings accounts and test new approaches to making retirement benefits more portable across jobs. 
  • Partnering with Communities to Expand Opportunity.Initiatives such as Promise Zones, Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, Partnership for Sustainable Communities, and Performance Partnership Pilots for Disconnected Youth have supported holistic, local responses to pressing issues. The Budget continues the Administration’s place-based approach to coordinating programs that help create jobs and opportunity, promote resilience and sustainability, and implement local visions in communities across the Nation.
  • Ending Homelessness. The Budget sustains funding to support programs dedicated to ending veteran homelessness, while also funding housing vouchers and rapid rehousing over the next ten years to reach and maintain the goal of ending homelessness among all of America’s families in 2020. This significant investment is based on recent rigorous research that found that families who utilized vouchers – compared to alternative forms of assistance to the homeless – had fewer incidents of homelessness, child separations, intimate partner violence and school moves, less food insecurity, and generally less economic stress.

Ensuring Access to Quality, Affordable Health Care. The Budget supports the Affordable Care Act, which is already providing coverage for millions of Americans through the Health Insurance Marketplaces, the delivery of financial assistance to make coverage affordable, and the expansion of Medicaid.  It also supports:

  • Expanding Access to Mental Health Care. One in five American adults experience a men­tal health issue at some point in their life, yet millions do not receive the care they need. The Budget includes $500 million in new mandatory funding to help engage individuals with serious mental illness in care, improve access to care by increasing service capacity and the behavioral health workforce, and ensure that behavioral health care systems work for everyone.
  • Addressing the Prescription Drug and Heroin Overdose Epidemic. More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes. The Budget takes a two-pronged approach to address this epidemic.  First, it includes $1 billion in new mandatory funding over two years to expand access to treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use and help ensure that every American who wants treatment can access it and get the help they need.  Second, it includes funding to continue and increase current efforts to expand State-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies, increase the availability of medication-assisted treatment programs, improve access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and support targeted enforcement activities.

Incentivizing Justice Reform with the 21st Century Justice Initiative.The Administration continues to support criminal justice reform that enhances public safety, avoids excessive punishment and unnecessary incarceration, and builds trust between the justice system and the community. The Budget includes a $5 billion investment for a new 21st Century Justice Initiative that will focus on achieving three objectives: reducing crime, reversing practices that have led to unnecessarily long sentences and unnecessary incarceration, and building community trust.

NATIONAL SECURITY AND GLOBAL LEADERSHIP 

Economic growth and opportunity can only be achieved if America is safe and secure. The Budget provides the resources to address security threats wherever they arise and continue to demonstrate American leadership around the world.

Destroying ISIL. The President’s highest priority is keeping the American people safe. That is why the United States is leading the global coalition that will de­stroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Budget provides over $11 billion for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of State to support U.S. efforts to continue to hunt down terrorists; provide training and equipment to forces fighting ISIL on the ground; help stabilize communities liberated from ISIL in Syria and Iraq; disrupt ISIL’s financing and recruitment; strengthen our regional partners, provide humanitarian assistance to those impacted by the conflict; and support a political solution to the Syrian civil war. 

Countering Violent Extremism. The President’s Budget includes funding for innovative, community-based approaches that seek to discourage violent extremism and to improve the ability of communities to identify potential extremists and intervene where necessary to thwart radical behavior that may lead to violence.

Securing the Digital Economy for All Americans Through Strengthened Cybersecurity. The Budget invests $19 billion in overall Federal resources for cybersecurity to support a broad-based cybersecurity strategy for securing the Government, enhancing the security of critical infrastructure and important technologies, investing in next-generation tools and workforce, and empowering Americans. In particular, this funding will support the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, which takes near-term actions and puts in place a long-term strategy to enhance cybersecurity awareness and protections, protect privacy, maintain public safety as well as economic and national security, and empower Americans to take better control of their digital security.

Supporting the Transition in Afghanistan. The Budget includes resources to reinforce Afghanistan’s security and development by supporting military training and assistance, as well as health, education, justice, economic growth, governance, and other civilian assistance programs necessary to promote stability and strengthen diplomatic ties with the international community. The Budget also supports the U.S. military mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Security Forces and maintain a counterterrorism capability.

Countering Russian Aggression and Supporting European Allies. The Budget includes $4.3 billion for political, economic, public diplomacy, and military support to build resilience and reduce vulnerabilities to Russian aggression among NATO allies and partner states in Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia. As part of that effort the Budget includes $3.4 billion for the Department of Defense’s European Reassurance Initiative (ERI).

Providing Further Support for the Central American Regional Strategy. The Budget provides necessary resources to further support the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America by investing in a long-term, comprehensive approach designed to address the root causes of migration of unaccompanied children and families from the region.

Advancing the Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific. The Budget supports the Administration’s commitment to a comprehensive regional strategy in Asia and the Pacific that reinforces a rules-based order and advances security, prosperity, and human dignity across the region. For instance, the Budget provides the necessary resources to implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a historic, high-standard trade agreement with 11 countries of the region that levels the playing field for American workers and American businesses.

Growing Partnerships in Africa. The Budget provides funding to ensure United States will uphold the commitments it made during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in 2014, including with respect to Power Africa, Trade Africa, the Security Governance Initiative (SGI), the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership (APRRP), and the Early Warning and Response Partnership (EWARP). It also provides resources for implementing the peace agreement in South Sudan. 

Preparing for the Future. In addition to addressing today’s changing security environment, the Budget makes sig­nificant investments to maintain our military’s superiority and ensure the United States always has an operational advantage over any potential adversary. The Budget does this by driving smart and essential innovation: pursuing new research and technology development; supporting updates and refinements to operational concepts and warfighting strategies; supporting capaci­ty building among local partners; building the Force of the Future; and pursuing additional enterprise reform.

Sustaining the President’s Development and Democracy Agenda. The Budget continues to advance the Administration’s development and democracy initiatives and activities as it seeks to reduce extreme poverty, encourage broad-based economic growth, and support democratic governance and human rights – and to drive progress toward meeting the global development vision and priorities adopted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  This includes investments in Feed the Future, the President’s food security initiative; development programs that mobilize the private sector to deliver tangible results and advance U.S. interests; food aid and other humanitarian assistance programs; the First Lady’s Let Girls Learn Initiative; and effective global health programs, including for the President’s Malaria Initiative and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Honoring Our Commitment to Veterans. The Budget ensures continued investment in the five pillars the President has outlined for supporting the Nation’s veterans: providing the resources and funding they deserve; ensuring high-quality and timely health care; getting veterans their earned benefits quickly and efficiently; ending veteran homelessness; and helping veterans and their families get good jobs, an education, and access to affordable housing. It also puts forward a proposal to fundamentally reform the broken appeals process for disability claims so that it can best serve our veterans. 

A GOVERNMENT OF THE FUTURE

The President is committed to driving last­ing change in how Government works – change that makes a significant, tangible, and positive difference in the economy and the lives of the American people. Over the past seven years, the Administration has launched successful efforts to modernize and improve citizen-facing services, eliminate wasteful spending, reduce the Federal real property footprint, improve the use of evidence to improve program performance, and spur innova­tion in the private sector by opening to the public tens of thousands of Federal data sets and inno­vation assets at the national labs.

Supporting the President’s Management Agenda. The Budget includes investments to continue driving the President’s Management Agenda by improving the service we provide to the American public; leveraging the Federal Government’s buying power to bring more value and efficiency to how we use taxpayer dollars; opening Government data and research to the private sector to drive innovation and economic growth; promoting smarter information technology; modernizing permitting and environmental review processes; creating new Idea Labs to support employees with promising ideas; and, attracting and retaining the best talent in the Federal workforce.  

Supporting Digital Service Delivery for Citizens. In 2014 the Administration piloted the U.S. Digital Service, a unit of innovators, entrepreneurs, and engineers. This team of America’s best digital experts has worked in collaboration with Federal agencies to implement streamlined and effective digital technology practices on the Nation’s highest priority programs. This work includes collaborating with the Department of Education to launch the new College Scorecard to give stu­dents, parents, and their advisors most reliable national data to help with college choice and supporting the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) transition to launch the new myUSCIS which makes it easier for users to access information about the immigration process and immigration ser­vices. To institutionalize the dramatic improve­ments that this approach has demonstrated, the Budget supports the Administration’s aggressive goal of hiring and placing 500 top technology and design experts to serve in the Government by January 2017.

Strengthening Federal Cybersecurity. As outlined above, the Budget provides $19 billion in resources for cybersecurity. This includes the creation of a new $3.1 billion revolving fund, the Information Technology Modernization Fund (ITMF), to retire the Government’s antiquated IT systems and transition to more secure and efficient modern IT systems, funding to streamline governance and secure Federal networks, and investments to strengthen the cybersecurity workforce and cybersecurity education across society.  

Building Evidence and Encouraging Innovation. The President has made it clear that policy decisions should be driven by evidence so that the Federal government can do more of what works and less of what does not. The Administration’s evidence-based approaches have resulted in important gains in areas ranging from reducing veteran homelessness, to improving educational outcomes, to enhancing the effectiveness of international development programs. The Budget invests in expanding evidence-based approaches, developing and testing effective practices, and enhancing government’s capacity to build and use evidence, in particular by expanding access to administrative data and further developing Federal, State, local, and tribal data infrastructure.

Reorganizing Government to Succeed in the Global Economy. The Budget also includes proposals to consolidate and reorganize Government agencies to make them leaner and more efficient, and it increases the use of evidence and evaluation to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely on programs that work.

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Obama Proposes New ‘First Job’ Funding to Connect Young Americans with Jobs, Skills Training to Start Their Careers

 

President Obama speaking at a Brooklyn School, is proposing First Job funding to connect young Americans with jobs and skills training to get a leg up on the ladder of career success © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama speaking at a Brooklyn School, is proposing First Job funding to connect young Americans with jobs and skills training to get a leg up on the ladder of career success © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“We need to do everything we can to make sure America’s young people get the opportunity to earn the skills and a work ethic that come with a job.  It’s important for their future, and for America’s.”

– President Barack Obama

“After the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, the United States is in the midst of the longest streak of private-sector job growth in our history, with more than 14 million new jobs created during the past 70 months. But for too many young people, getting a first job—a crucial step in starting their career—is challenging. One of the main criteria employers screen for in the hiring process is work experience. Previous experience allows potential employers to call references who can vouch for a candidate and assess what someone can do based on past accomplishments. Additionally, many of the skills employers value most can only be learned on the job. Once a young person gets their first job, it is much easier to get the next one,” the White House stated in a Fact Sheet explaining funding for a new program to connect young people with jobs and career training.

“In his State of the Union Address, the President made clear that our goal is a growing economy that works better for everybody. The President’s FY 2017 Budget includes nearly $6 billion in new funding to help more than 1 million young people gain the work experience, skills, and networks that come from having a first job.  Today, the White House and the Departments of Labor and Education announced the details of that plan, including nearly doubling last year’s budget request for supporting young people who are out of school and work.”

Republicans are fond of decrying the fact that so many young people have had to live in the parents’ house because they can’t afford to set up their own household (though you hear less of that now that the economy has clearly rebounded). They attack the lack of real increase in wage growth. Yet they do nothing about it – nothing to invest in infrastructure to stimulate jobs and wages, nothing to address student debt by keeping interest rates artificially high, nothing to promote college affordability or jobs creation.

The proposal that President Obama has made would address many of these issues. Let’s see if Republicans support it, or return to their mantra of “curing” every problem by calling for reduced taxes and regulation.

Major investments of Obama’s plan include:

  • A New $5.5 Billion Proposal to Open Doors to a First Job.The President’s Budget will propose new investments – nearly double last year’s request – to connect more than 1 million young people to first jobs over the summer and year-round. It would also create a new $2 billion competitive grant program designed to re-connect disconnected youth to educational and workforce pathways.
  • Summer Jobs and BeyondGrant Competition.  Today the Administration is also taking a new step to connect more young Americans to work with the release of the application for a $20 million Department of Labor grant competition – using existing funds – that will award approximately 10 grants to communities to implement innovative approaches that connect young people to jobs and career pathways.
  • New Proposed Investments to Give More Americans Skills for In-Demand Jobs. The President is also proposing in his Budget $3 billion to create an American Talent Compact that would expand talent pipelines in over 50 regions to fill open jobs and attract new jobs from overseas; a $500 million Workforce Data Science and Innovation Fund to create dynamic data sets on jobs, skills, and training to help training providers and workers keep pace with rapidly changing job needs; and a $2 billion Apprenticeship Training Fund to double the number of U.S. apprenticeships.

The President is also calling on businesses to take action to give young Americans with limited resumes a better shot in the hiring process by providing internships, training, mentoring, and job interviews to young people who are not in school or working.  With more than five million jobs open today—near the highest levels on record—developing the workforce of the future will be critical for businesses to grow, compete for new markets, and innovate.

Budget Proposals to Help More Young Americans Start Their Careers

When a young person struggles to get their first job, it can have a lasting negative impact on her lifetime income as well as her motivation, pride, and self-esteem. It is also a missed opportunity for the economy as a whole. A 2012 study found that people who endure a spell of unemployment between the ages of 16 and 24 earn $400,000 less over their careers than those who do not. Moreover, they estimate the lifetime cost to taxpayers of the 6.7 million youth who were neither in school nor in work was around $1.6 trillion.  The President’s Budget proposals help address these challenges, including with:

A New $5.5 Billion Proposal to Open Doors to a First Job

  • A Down Payment on a First Job for Every Young American. The President’s proposal would invest $3.5 billion to create new partnerships with companies and communities to get nearly 1 million young people into first jobs over the summer and 150,000 young Americans who have been out of school and work into up to a year of paid work.

o   Funds would be distributed to states through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act youth formula program and be disbursed to localities to cover up to half of the cost of wages for a young person.

o   They would require a matched investment from either public, private, or philanthropic funding.

o    Additionally, the Department of Labor will work with Treasury to ensure that young people participating in these programs have access to safe and appropriate financial products and accounts, so that they can use their earnings to start building savings and gain money management skills which are critical for their future.

  • Community Partnerships to Connect Young Americans to Opportunity. The President’s proposals would invest $2 billion jointly administered by the Departments of Labor and Education to put youth who have dropped out or are most at risk of dropping out of high school on the path to get a diploma and connect to post-secondary education and jobs. Funding would be competitively awarded to communities, in required partnership with local education, workforce, and community organizations. The Departments would encourage proven approaches, such as work-based learning and internships, and re-engagement centers.

A New $200 Million Proposal to Develop & Expand Youth Apprenticeship Programs

  • Expanding Apprenticeships for More American Workers and Youth. The President is proposing to dedicate $200 million to support the development and expansion of youth apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs that let young people explore their interests in school through work and classroom-based training before starting a formal apprenticeship. This is part of a broader $2 billion proposal to create an Apprenticeships Training Fund to increase resources for state apprenticeship programs. 

New Actions Using Existing Resources

  • Summer Jobs and Beyond Grant Competition. Today, the Administration is releasing the application for $20 million in existing funds available through DOL that will:

o   Fund innovative models to connect young people ages 16 to 24 with limited or no work experience to summer and year-round job opportunities through partnerships between employers, workforce investment boards, local education agencies, and reengagement centers.

o   Go to approximately 10 communities, with priority given to those communities facing high rates of youth unemployment, poverty, crime, and dropouts.

o   Build on a recent $17 million DOL investment in Youth Demonstration grants to support disconnected young adults in seven cities, including Baltimore, Camden, Detroit, Houston, Long Beach, North Charleston, and North St. Louis.

  • 2016 Summer Opportunity Project. On February 26th, the White House will launch a summer opportunity project and host a workshop that brings together state and local leaders, community-based organizations, private sector and philanthropic leaders, and schools. The project will call on all of these leaders to increase their efforts and investments to bridge the summer opportunity gap for this year and beyond in targeted communities across the country. At the event, we will release a Summer Opportunity Federal Resource Guideto make it easier for local governments and non-profits to identify and navigate Federal programs across agencies.

Broader Proposed Investments in Innovative Training that Lead to In-Demand Jobs

The 21st century American worker faces an increasingly complex and dynamic job market. Globalization, automation, and technological innovation are driving rapid changes in available jobs and demanded skills. The President is proposing a plan to ensure that our education and training systems do more to help workers keep pace as the labor market evolves.

  • Creating a Talent Compact to Keep and Attract Jobs to the U.S. One of the main assets a business considers when deciding where to locate and growis the availability of talent. The President is proposing in his Budget $3 billion in competitive funding to create more than 50 “Talent Hotspots” across the U.S.  These Talent Hotspots would consist of employers, training programs, and workforce and economic development leaders that prioritize one sector and make a commitment to recruit and train the workforce to help local businesses grow and thrive, attract more jobs from overseas, and fuel the talent needs of entrepreneurs. This proposal would produce a pipeline of about half a million skilled workers over the next five years.
  • Empowering Workers, Training Providers and Employers with Better Information on Jobs, Skills and Training.  Supporting a more dynamic workforce requires good data. But today, little information exists about what skills employers are hiring for and what training works best.  That is why the President is proposing:

o   The creation of a new Workforce Data Science and Innovation Fund. DOL would recruit and deploy a best-in-class team to help states find new ways to use technology and data analytics to improve training programs and consumer choice. And similar to HHS’s Open Health Data Initiative, DOL would partner with the Department of Commerce to develop new open source data on jobs and skills to spur the creation of new products to help match workers to better jobs.

o   $40 million in Workforce Data Quality Grants to upgrade state data systems to produce information on the outcomes of training programs for consumers.

o   $2.5 million to create a more real-time, dynamic data sets and common language for jobs and skills building upon O*Net (the Occupational Information Network) to fuel the development of new products and services for job seekers.

o   Ensuring high-quality customer service for job seekers getting Federal services. Each year, 2,500 American Job Centers (AJCs) help approximately 17 million Americans get back to work and into better jobs. The President’s Budget proposes $2.5 million to develop an easy-to-use tool for workers to quickly view customer satisfaction rating for the job centers in their area and to establish a technology platform that AJCs can use to report on customer service outcomes.

  • Providing 21st Century Career Navigation. The President’s Budget will propose $1.5 billion in new resources to states for Career Navigators who will proactively reach out to workers most at risk of not being able to reset their careers after spells of joblessness. Each year, Career Navigators will help more than 1 million people find jobs, matching them to appropriate training programs, and connecting them to the support services they need to succeed.

Building on President Obama’s Record of Progress for Young Americans 

  • My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Initiative.President Obama launched MBK in February 2014 to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color to ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. Since its launch, more than 200 communities have accepted the MBK Community Challenge; more than $500 million in grants and in-kind resources and $1 billion in financing has been independently committed to advance the mission of MBK.
  • $100 Million TechHire Grant Competition, Including $50 Million for Young Americans. In November, the Administration released the application for $100 million to expand partnerships that can rapidly train and connect workers with barriers to employment to well-paying, high-growth jobs in information technology and other industries. The Department is accepting applications until March 11th, 2016. Interested applicants can find the application here.
  • Engaging Local Elected Officials to Connect Young People and Adults to In-Demand Jobs.Over the years, the Administration has worked with local elected leaders and national organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and the National League of Cities (NLC), on efforts such as the TechHire and My Brother’s Keeper Initiatives.  Building on this work and new announcement, USCM and NLC will support the growth, adoption, and creation of promising practices for the expansion of summer opportunities and building partnerships to expand and upgrade training for in-demand jobs in communities across the U.S.

____

News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. Contact editor@news-photos-features.com.

Obama Visits Mosque to Deliver Speech Affirming Religious Tolerance as Core American Value

President Obama mentioned sports icon Mohammed Ali (here at the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative) in calling attention to the fact that Muslim Americans have been part of the nation's fabric since its founding © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama mentioned sports icon Mohammed Ali (here at the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative) in calling attention to the fact that Muslim Americans have been part of the nation’s fabric since its founding © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

 

President Barack Obama today traveled to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first visit to an American mosque as president, to deliver a remarkable speech affirming America’s religious tolerance. “We can’t be bystanders to bigotry.  And together, we’ve got to show that America truly protects all faiths.”

He spoke frankly as much to non-Muslims as Muslims about the need for non-Muslims to better know and appreciate how Muslims have been part of the American fabric since colonial times, and for Muslims to speak out for tolerance and be a force to counter those who would incite terrorism.

“We’re one American family.  And when any part of our family starts to feel separate or second-class or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation…

“And so if we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country — we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths.  (Applause.)  And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up.  And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion.

“We’ve got to make sure that hate crimes are punished, and that the civil rights of all Americans are upheld.  (Applause.)  And just as faith leaders, including Muslims, must speak out when Christians are persecuted around the world — (applause) — or when anti-Semitism is on the rise — because the fact is, is that there are Christians who are targeted now in the Middle East, despite having been there for centuries, and there are Jews who’ve lived in places like France for centuries who now feel obliged to leave because they feel themselves under assault –sometimes by Muslims.  We have to be consistent in condemning hateful rhetoric and violence against everyone.  (Applause.)  And that includes against Muslims here in the United States of America.  (Applause.)  …

“…the best way for us to fight terrorism is to deny these organizations legitimacy and to show that here in the United States of America, we do not suppress Islam; we celebrate and lift up the success of Muslim Americans.  That’s how we show the lie that they’re trying to propagate.  (Applause.)  We shouldn’t play into terrorist propaganda.  And we can’t suggest that Islam itself is at the root of the problem.  That betrays our values.  It alienates Muslim Americans.  It’s hurtful to those kids who are trying to go to school and are members of the Boy Scouts, and are thinking about joining our military.

“That kind of mindset helps our enemies.  It helps our enemies recruit.  It makes us all less safe. … 

“…just as all Americans have a responsibility to reject discrimination — I’ve said this before — Muslims around the world have a responsibility to reject extremist ideologies that are trying to penetrate within Muslim communities. ..

“Our values must guide us in this work.  Engagement with Muslim American communities must never be a cover for surveillance.  (Applause.)  We can’t give in to profiling entire groups of people.  There’s no one single profile of terrorists.  We can’t securitize our entire relationship with Muslim Americans.  We can’t deal with you solely through the prism of law enforcement.  We’ve got to build trust and mutual respect.  That’s how we’ll keep our communities strong and our communities united.

“We are blessed to live in a nation where even if we sometimes stumble, even if we sometimes fall short, we never stop striving for our ideals.  We keep moving closer to that more perfect union.  We’re a country where, if you work hard and if you play by the rules, you can ultimately make it, no matter who you are or how you pray.  It may not always start off even in the race, but here, more than any place else, there’s the opportunity to run that race.

“We are one American family.  We will rise and fall together. It won’t always be easy.  There will be times where our worst impulses are given voice.  But I believe that ultimately, our best voices will win out.  And that gives me confidence and faith in the future.  (Applause.)

“After more than 200 years, our blended heritage, the patchwork quilt which is America, that is not a weakness, that is one of our greatest strengths.  It’s what makes us a beacon to the world.  It’s what led that mother who wrote to me — the one who worries about her young daughter — it led her to end her letter with hope, despite her fears.  She said, ‘I still believe in one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’.”  (Applause.)

Here is the speech, highlighted:

This mosque, like so many in our country, is an all-American story.  You’ve been part of this city for nearly half a century. You serve thousands of families — some who’ve lived here for decades as well as immigrants from many countries who’ve worked to become proud American citizens.

Now, a lot of Americans have never visited a mosque.  To the folks watching this today who haven’t — think of your own church, or synagogue, or temple, and a mosque like this will be very familiar.  This is where families come to worship and express their love for God and each other.  There’s a school where teachers open young minds.  Kids play baseball and football and basketball — boys and girls — I hear they’re pretty good.  (Laughter.)  Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts meet, recite the Pledge of Allegiance here.

With interfaith dialogue, you build bridges of understanding with other faith communities — Christians and Jews.  There’s a health clinic that serves the needy, regardless of their faith.  And members of this community are out in the broader community, working for social justice and urban development.  As voters, you come here to meet candidates.  As one of your members said, “just look at the way we live…we are true Americans.”

So the first thing I want to say is two words that Muslim Americans don’t hear often enough — and that is, thank you.  Thank you for serving your community.  Thank you for lifting up the lives of your neighbors, and for helping keep us strong and united as one American family.  We are grateful for that.  (Applause.)

Now, this brings me to the other reason I wanted to come here today.  I know that in Muslim communities across our country, this is a time of concern and, frankly, a time of some fear.  Like all Americans, you’re worried about the threat of terrorism.  But on top of that, as Muslim Americans, you also have another concern — and that is your entire community so often is targeted or blamed for the violent acts of the very few.

The Muslim American community remains relatively small –several million people in this country.  And as a result, most Americans don’t necessarily know — or at least don’t know that they know — a Muslim personally.  And as a result, many only hear about Muslims and Islam from the news after an act of terrorism, or in distorted media portrayals in TV or film, all of which gives this hugely distorted impression.

And since 9/11, but more recently, since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, you’ve seen too often people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith.  And of course, recently, we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country. 

No surprise, then, that threats and harassment of Muslim Americans have surged.  Here at this mosque, twice last year, threats were made against your children.  Around the country, women wearing the hijab — just like Sabah — have been targeted. We’ve seen children bullied.  We’ve seen mosques vandalized.  Sikh Americans and others who are perceived to be Muslims have been targeted, as well.

I just had a chance to meet with some extraordinary Muslim Americans from across the country who are doing all sorts of work.  Some of them are doctors; some of them are community leaders; religious leaders.  All of them were doing extraordinary work not just in the Muslim community but in the American community.  And they’re proud of their work in business and education, and on behalf of social justice and the environment and education.  I should point out they were all much younger than me — (laughter) — which is happening more frequently these days.  And you couldn’t help but be inspired, hearing about the extraordinary work that they’re doing.  But you also could not help but be heartbroken to hear their worries and their anxieties.

Some of them are parents, and they talked about how their children were asking, are we going to be forced out of the country, or, are we going to be rounded up?  Why do people treat us like that?  Conversations that you shouldn’t have to have with children — not in this country.  Not at this moment.

And that’s an anxiety echoed in letters I get from Muslim Americans around the country.  I’ve had people write to me and say, I feel like I’m a second-class citizen.  I’ve had mothers write and say, “my heart cries every night,” thinking about how her daughter might be treated at school.  A girl from Ohio, 13 years old, told me, “I’m scared.”  A girl from Texas signed her letter “a confused 14-year-old trying to find her place in the world.”

These are children just like mine.  And the notion that they would be filled with doubt and questioning their places in this great country of ours at a time when they’ve got enough to worry about — it’s hard being a teenager already — that’s not who we are.

We’re one American family.  And when any part of our family starts to feel separate or second-class or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation.  (Applause.)

It’s a challenge to our values — and that means we have much work to do.  We’ve got to tackle this head on.  We have to be honest and clear about it.   And we have to speak out.  This is a moment when, as Americans, we have to truly listen to each other and learn from each other.  And I believe it has to begin with a common understanding of some basic facts.  And I express these facts, although they’d be obvious to many of the people in this place, because, unfortunately, it’s not facts that are communicated on a regular basis through our media.

So let’s start with this fact:  For more than a thousand years, people have been drawn to Islam’s message of peace.  And the very word itself, Islam, comes from salam — peace.  The standard greeting is as-salamu alaykum — peace be upon you.  And like so many faiths, Islam is rooted in a commitment to compassion and mercy and justice and charity.  Whoever wants to enter paradise, the Prophet Muhammad taught, “let him treat people the way he would love to be treated.”  (Applause.)  For Christians like myself, I’m assuming that sounds familiar.  (Laughter.)

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are as diverse as humanity itself.  They are Arabs and Africans.  They’re from Latin America to Southeast Asia; Brazilians, Nigerians, Bangladeshis, Indonesians.  They are white and brown and black.  There’s a large African American Muslim community.  That diversity is represented here today.  A 14-year-old boy in Texas who’s Muslim spoke for many when he wrote to me and said, “We just want to live in peace.”

Here’s another fact:  Islam has always been part of America. Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim.  And even in their bondage, some kept their faith alive.  A few even won their freedom and became known to many Americans.  And when enshrining the freedom of religion in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, our Founders meant what they said when they said it applied to all religions.

Back then, Muslims were often called Mahometans.  And Thomas Jefferson explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all faiths — and I’m quoting Thomas Jefferson now — “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan.”  (Applause.)

Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran. Benjamin Franklin wrote that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”  (Applause.)  So this is not a new thing.

Generations of Muslim Americans helped to build our nation. They were part of the flow of immigrants who became farmers and merchants.  They built America’s first mosque, surprisingly enough, in North Dakota.  (Laughter.)  America’s oldest surviving mosque is in Iowa.  The first Islamic center in New York City was built in the 1890s.  Muslim Americans worked on Henry Ford’s assembly line, cranking out cars.  A Muslim American designed the skyscrapers of Chicago.

In 1957, when dedicating the Islamic center in Washington, D.C., President Eisenhower said, “I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution … and in American hearts…this place of worship, is just as welcome…as any other religion.”  (Applause.)

And perhaps the most pertinent fact, Muslim Americans enrich our lives today in every way.  They’re our neighbors, the teachers who inspire our children, the doctors who trust us with our health — future doctors like Sabah.  They’re scientists who win Nobel Prizes, young entrepreneurs who are creating new technologies that we use all the time.  They’re the sports heroes we cheer for -— like Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon.  And by the way, when Team USA marches into the next Olympics, one of the Americans waving the red, white and blue — (applause) — will a fencing champion, wearing her hijab, Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is here today.  Stand up.  (Applause.)  I told her to bring home the gold.  (Laughter.)  Not to put any pressure on you.  (Laughter.)

Muslim Americans keep us safe.  They’re our police and our firefighters.  They’re in homeland security, in our intelligence community.  They serve honorably in our armed forces — meaning they fight and bleed and die for our freedom.  Some rest in Arlington National Cemetery.  (Applause.)

So Muslim Americans are some of the most resilient and patriotic Americans you’ll ever meet.  We’re honored to have some of our proud Muslim American servicemembers here today.  Please stand if you’re here, so we can thank you for your service.  (Applause.)

So part of the reason I want to lay out these facts is because, in the discussions that I was having with these incredibly accomplished young people, they were pointing that so often they felt invisible.  And part of what we have to do is to lift up the contributions of the Muslim American community not when there’s a problem, but all the time. 

Our television shows should have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security — (applause) — because — it’s not that hard to do.  There was a time when there were no black people on television.  And you can tell good stories while still representing the reality of our communities.

Now, we do have another fact that we have to acknowledge.  Even as the overwhelming majority — and I repeat, the overwhelming majority — of the world’s Muslims embrace Islam as a source of peace, it is undeniable that a small fraction of Muslims propagate a perverted interpretation of Islam.  This is the truth. 

Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL, they’re not the first extremists in history to misuse God’s name.  We’ve seen it before, across faiths.  But right now, there is a organized extremist element that draws selectively from Islamic texts, twists them in an attempt to justify their killing and their terror.  They combine it with false claims that America and the West are at war with Islam.  And this warped thinking that has found adherents around the world — including, as we saw, tragically, in Boston and Chattanooga and San Bernardino — is real.  It’s there.  And it creates tensions and pressure that disproportionately burden the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Muslim citizens.    

And the question then is, how do we move forward together?  How do we keep our country strong and united?  How do we defend ourselves against organizations that are bent on killing innocents?  And it can’t be the work of any one faith alone.  It can’t be just a burden on the Muslim community — although the Muslim community has to play a role.  We all have responsibilities.  So with the time I have left, I just want to suggest a few principles that I believe can guide us.

First, at a time when others are trying to divide us along lines of religion or sect, we have to reaffirm that most fundamental of truths:  We are all God’s children.  We’re all born equal, with inherent dignity. 

And so often, we focus on our outward differences and we forget how much we share.  Christians, Jews, Muslims — we’re all, under our faiths, descendants of Abraham.  So mere tolerance of different religions is not enough.  Our faiths summon us to embrace our common humanity.  “O mankind,” the Koran teaches, we have “made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (Applause.)  So all of us have the task of expressing our religious faith in a way that seeks to build bridges rather than to divide.

Second, as Americans, we have to stay true to our core values, and that includes freedom of religion for all faiths.  I already mentioned our Founders, like Jefferson, knew that religious liberty is essential not only to protect religion but because religion helps strengthen our nation — if it is free, if it is not an extension of the state.  Part of what’s happened in the Middle East and North Africa and other places where we see sectarian violence is religion being a tool for another agenda — for power, for control.  Freedom of religion helps prevent that, both ways — protects religious faiths, protects the state from  — or those who want to take over the state from using religious animosity as a tool for their own ends.

That doesn’t mean that those of us with religious faith should not be involved.  We have to be active citizenry.  But we have to respect the fact that we have freedom of religion. 

Remember, many preachers and pastors fought to abolish the evil of slavery.  People of faith advocated to improve conditions for workers and ban child labor.  Dr. King was joined by people of many faiths, challenging us to live up to our ideals.  And that civil activism, that civic participation that’s the essence of our democracy, it is enhanced by freedom of religion.

Now, we have to acknowledge that there have been times where we have fallen short of our ideals.  By the way, Thomas Jefferson’s opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim — so I was not the first –– (applause.)  No, it’s true, it’s true.  Look it up.  (Laughter.)  I’m in good company. (Laughter.)

But it hasn’t just been attacks of that sort that have been used.  Mormon communities have been attacked throughout our history.  Catholics, including, most prominently, JFK — John F. Kennedy — when he ran for President, was accused of being disloyal.  There was a suggestion that he would be taking orders from the Pope as opposed to upholding his constitutional duties. Anti-Semitism in this country has a sad and long history, and Jews were exclude routinely from colleges and professions and from public office.

And so if we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country — we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths.  (Applause.)  And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up.  And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion.

We’ve got to make sure that hate crimes are punished, and that the civil rights of all Americans are upheld.  (Applause.)  And just as faith leaders, including Muslims, must speak out when Christians are persecuted around the world — (applause) — or when anti-Semitism is on the rise — because the fact is, is that there are Christians who are targeted now in the Middle East, despite having been there for centuries, and there are Jews who’ve lived in places like France for centuries who now feel obliged to leave because they feel themselves under assault –sometimes by Muslims.  We have to be consistent in condemning hateful rhetoric and violence against everyone.  (Applause.)  And that includes against Muslims here in the United States of America.  (Applause.)

So none of us can be silent.  We can’t be bystanders to bigotry.  And together, we’ve got to show that America truly protects all faiths.  

Which brings me to my next point:  As we protect our country from terrorism, we should not reinforce the ideas and the rhetoric of the terrorists themselves.  I often hear it said that we need moral clarity in this fight.  And the suggestion is somehow that if I would simply say, these are all Islamic terrorists, then we would actually have solved the problem by now, apparently.  (Laughter.)  Well, I agree, we actually do need moral clarity.  Let’s have some moral clarity.  (Applause.)

Groups like ISIL are desperate for legitimacy.  They try to portray themselves as religious leaders and holy warriors who speak for Islam.  I refuse to give them legitimacy.  We must never give them that legitimacy.  (Applause.)  They’re not defending Islam.  They’re not defending Muslims.  The vast majority of the people they kill are innocent Muslim men, women and children.  (Applause.)

And, by the way, the notion that America is at war with Islam ignores the fact that the world’s religions are a part of who we are.  We can’t be at war with any other religion because the world’s religions are a part of the very fabric of the United States, our national character.  (Applause.)

So the best way for us to fight terrorism is to deny these organizations legitimacy and to show that here in the United States of America, we do not suppress Islam; we celebrate and lift up the success of Muslim Americans.  That’s how we show the lie that they’re trying to propagate.  (Applause.)  We shouldn’t play into terrorist propaganda.  And we can’t suggest that Islam itself is at the root of the problem.  That betrays our values.  It alienates Muslim Americans.  It’s hurtful to those kids who are trying to go to school and are members of the Boy Scouts, and are thinking about joining our military. 

That kind of mindset helps our enemies.  It helps our enemies recruit.  It makes us all less safe.  So let’s be clear about that. 

Now, finally, just as all Americans have a responsibility to reject discrimination — I’ve said this before — Muslims around the world have a responsibility to reject extremist ideologies that are trying to penetrate within Muslim communities. 

Here at this mosque, and across our country and around the world, Muslim leaders are roundly and repeatedly and consistently condemning terrorism.  And around the globe, Muslims who’ve dared to speak out have often been targeted and even killed.  So those voices are there; we just have to amplify them more.  (Applause.)

And it was interesting, in the discussion I had before I came out, some people said, why is there always a burden on us? When a young man in Charleston shoots African Americans in a church, there’s not an expectation that every white person in America suddenly is explaining that they’re not racist.  They can Everybody is assumed to be horrified by that act.  And I recognize that sometimes that doesn’t feel fair.

But part of the answer is to make sure that the Muslim community in all of its variety, in all the good works that it’s doing, in all the talent that’s on display, that it’s out there visible on a consistent basis — not just at a certain moment.  (Applause.)

But what is also true is, is that there is a battle of hearts and minds that takes place — that is taking place right now, and American Muslims are better positioned than anybody to show that it is possible to be faithful to Islam and to be part of a pluralistic society, and to be on the cutting-edge of science, and to believe in democracy.  (Applause.)

And so I would urge all of you not to see this as a burden, but as a great opportunity and a great privilege to show who you are.  To use a little Christian expression — let your light shine.  Because when you do you’ll make clear that this is not a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam.  This is a struggle between the peace-loving, overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world and a radical, tiny minority.  And ultimately, I’m confident that the overwhelming majority will win that battle.  (Applause.)  Muslims will decide the future of your faith.  And I’m confident in the direction that it will go.

But across the Islamic world, influential voices should consistently speak out with an affirmative vision of their faith. And it’s happening.  These are the voices of Muslim clerics who teach that Islam prohibits terrorism, for the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.  (Applause.)  These are the voices of Muslim scholars, some of whom join us today, who know Islam has a tradition of respect for other faiths; and Muslim teachers who point out that the first word revealed in the Koran — igra — means “read” — to seek knowledge, to question assumptions.  (Applause.)

Muslim political leaders have to push back on the lie that the West oppresses Muslims, and against conspiracy theories that says America is the cause of every ill in the Middle East.  Now, that doesn’t mean that Muslim Americans aren’t free to criticize American — U.S. foreign policy.  That’s part of being an American.  I promise you, as the President of the United States, I’m mindful that that is a healthy tradition that is alive and well in America.  (Laughter.)  But like leaders everywhere, these leaders have been offering, and need to continue to offer, a positive vision for progress, and that includes political and economic progress.

And we have to acknowledge that much of the violence in places like the Middle East is now turning into fights between sects — Shia, Sunni and others — where differences are often exploited to serve political agendas, as I said earlier.  And this bloodshed is destroying Muslim families and communities, and there has to be global pressure to have the vision and the courage to end this kind of thinking and this approach to organizing political power.

It’s not historically unique.  It’s happened in every part of the world — from Northern Ireland to Africa, to Asia, to right here in the United States — in the past.  But it is something that we have to fight against.

And we know it’s possible.  Across the history of Islam, different sects traditionally have lived and thrived together peacefully.  And in many parts of the world they do today, including here in the United States.

Like people of all religions, Muslims living their faith in a modern, pluralistic world are called upon to uphold human rights, to make sure that everyone has opportunity.  That includes the aspirations of women and youth and all people.  If we expect our own dignity to be respected, so must we respect the dignity of others.  (Applause.)

So let me conclude by saying that as Muslim communities stand up for the future that you believe in, that you exhibit in your daily lives, as you teach your children, America will be your partner.  We will — I will — do everything I can to lift up the multiplicity of Muslim voices that promote pluralism and peace.  (Applause.)  We will continue to reach out to young Muslims around the world, empowering them with science and technology and entrepreneurship, so they can pursue their God-given potential, and help build up their communities and provide opportunity.  It’s why we will continue to partner with Muslim American communities — not just to help you protect against extremist threats, but to expand health care and education and opportunity — (applause) — because that’s the best way to build strong, resilient communities.

Our values must guide us in this work.  Engagement with Muslim American communities must never be a cover for surveillance.  (Applause.)  We can’t give in to profiling entire groups of people.  There’s no one single profile of terrorists.  We can’t securitize our entire relationship with Muslim Americans.  We can’t deal with you solely through the prism of law enforcement.  We’ve got to build trust and mutual respect.  That’s how we’ll keep our communities strong and our communities united.

As I was in discussion with the young people before I came in here, I said this will be a process.  Law enforcement has a tough job.  Some of these groups are specifically trying to target Muslim youth.  We’re going to have to be partners in this process.  There will be times where the relationship is clumsy or mishandled.  But I want you to know that from the President to the FBI Director, to everybody in law enforcement, my directive and their understanding is, is that this is something we have to do together.  And if we don’t do it well, then we’re actually not making ourselves safer; we’re making ourselves less safe.

And here, I want to speak directly to the young people who may be listening.  In our lives, we all have many identities.  We are sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters.  We’re classmates; Cub Scout troop members.  We’re followers of our faith.  We’re citizens of our country.  And today, there are voices in this world, particularly over the Internet, who are constantly claiming that you have to choose between your identities — as a Muslim, for example, or an American.  Do not believe them.  If you’re ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States:  You fit in here — right here.  (Applause.)  You’re right where you belong.  You’re part of America, too.  (Applause.)  You’re not Muslim or American.  You’re Muslim and American. (Applause.)

Don’t grow cynical.  Don’t respond to ignorance by embracing a world view that suggests you must choose between your faith and your patriotism.  Don’t believe that you have to choose between your best impulses and somehow embrace a world view that pits us against each other — or, even worse, glorifies violence.  Understand your power to bring about change.  Stay engaged in your community.  Help move our country forward — your country forward.  (Applause.)

We are blessed to live in a nation where even if we sometimes stumble, even if we sometimes fall short, we never stop striving for our ideals.  We keep moving closer to that more perfect union.  We’re a country where, if you work hard and if you play by the rules, you can ultimately make it, no matter who you are or how you pray.  It may not always start off even in the race, but here, more than any place else, there’s the opportunity to run that race.

And as we go forward, I want every Muslim American to remember you are not alone.  Your fellow Americans stand with you — just as Sabah described her friends after she decided that she was going to start wearing a hijab.  That’s not unusual.  Because just as so often we only hear about Muslims after a terrorist attack, so often we only hear about Americans’ response to Muslims after a hate crime has happened, we don’t always hear about the extraordinary respect and love and community that so many Americans feel.

I’m thinking about the seven-year-old boy in Texas who emptied his piggy bank to help a mosque that had been vandalized. (Applause.)  Or all the faith communities that rallied around Muslim Americans after the tragedy in Chapel Hill.  The churches and the synagogues standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their local mosques, including the woman carrying a sign saying “We love our Muslim neighbors.”  Think of our men and women in uniform who, when they heard that a little girl was afraid because she’s a Muslim, sent her a message — “I Will Protect You.”  (Applause.)

I want every American to remember how Muslim communities are standing up for others, as well.  Because right now, as we speak, there are Muslims in Kenya who saved Christians from terrorists, and Muslims who just met in Morocco to protect religious minorities, including Christians and Jews.  (Applause.)  The good people of this mosque helped this city move forward after the turmoil of last year.  Muslim Americans across the country helped African American churches rebuild after arson.

Remember the Muslim Americans in Boston who reached out to victims of the Marathon bombing; the Muslim Americans across the country who raised money for the families of San Bernardino; the Muslim Americans in Chattanooga who honored our fallen servicemembers, one of them saying, “in the name of God, the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, God bless our fallen heroes.”  (Applause.)

We are one American family.  We will rise and fall together. It won’t always be easy.  There will be times where our worst impulses are given voice.  But I believe that ultimately, our best voices will win out.  And that gives me confidence and faith in the future.  (Applause.)  

After more than 200 years, our blended heritage, the patchwork quilt which is America, that is not a weakness, that is one of our greatest strengths.  It’s what makes us a beacon to the world.  It’s what led that mother who wrote to me — the one who worries about her young daughter — it led her to end her letter with hope, despite her fears.  She said, “I still believe in one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  (Applause.)

May God’s peace be upon you.  May God bless the United States of America.

_____________________________

News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc.  For editorial feature and photo information, go towww.news-photos-features.com,  

What Obama Administration is Doing to Fight ISIS

President Obama, in his final State of the Union, addressed the ISIL/terror threat saying, "But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed. And that’s exactly what we’re doing." © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama, in his final State of the Union, addressed the ISIL/terror threat saying, “But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages — they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That is the story ISIL wants to tell. That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don’t need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions. We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin/News & Photo Features

Clearly, the Republican candidates for President are using their own ignorance and the ignorance of most Americans concerning what the US is doing to combat ISIL and terrorism in order to sow fear that they are betting will profit them in gaining votes. 

Most significantly is the truth behind President Obama’s statement from the 2015 State of the Union and this year’s State of the Union, that the US-led coalition has stopped ISIL’s expansion and in fact, has regained 40 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Iraq and more than 10 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Syria. And you have to wonder what the Republican candidates would do differently. Even their own words, though filled with bravado and threats, do not really suggest doing anything more than the US is already doing: building a coalition, training and supplying fighters, striking targets including oil facilities and training camps. And the US would be more successful in cutting off their funding sources if the Republicans in Congress would confirm Obama’s nominee to lead the Treasury Department’s efforts to cut off the funding that ISIS and other terrorist organizations need to carry out attacks (Adam Szubin was nominated more than 230 days ago, see more). 

The United States has also been the leader toward a diplomatic effort to accomplish the essential political transition in Syria, and also the leading donor of humanitarian aid to Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Here is a Fact Sheet from the White House that describes what the US is doing (highlights added): 

FACT SHEET: MAINTAINING MOMENTUM IN THE FIGHT AGAINST ISIL 

Over the last year, the 65-member Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, led by the United States, has intensified the fight to liberate ISIL-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria and has made significant progress in its campaign to degrade and destroy this abhorrent terrorist group. 

As we move into 2016, President Obama and the broader Administration remain fully committed to eliminating the threat posed by ISIL and will continue to pursue a strategy that strikes ISIL at its core, degrades its networks, and constrains its prospects for expansion. We must be patient and flexible in our efforts; this is a multi-year fight and there will be challenges along the way. But we are united with our Coalition partners and are making progress together to degrade and destroy ISIL.

Background

  • In the summer of 2014 ISIL had surged into Iraq, directly threatening Baghdad and Erbil, including locations where U.S. personnel were located, and calling for the systematic destruction of the Yezidi people. We witnessed atrocities, beheadings, crucifixions, and immolations. ISIL is like no terrorist threat we have confronted before.
  • ISIL has not had any major strategic victories in Iraq or Syria since May 2015. In fact, with the Coalition supporting local partners on the ground, ISIL has lost approximately 40 percent of populated territory it once controlled in Iraq and more than 10 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Syria. 
  • ISIL is being defeated by brave local forces in Iraq and Syria who are reclaiming and defending their villages, cities, and ultimately, their countries, with the support of the United States and our Coalition partners.  ISIL’s freedom of movement across borders has been significantly reduced and we are making progress in cutting supply lines between ISIL strongholds in ar-Raqqah and Mosul.

Military Efforts

  • U.S. and Coalition military efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL have ramped up significantly throughout 2015.

o   Seventeen Coalition members have joined the United States in deploying military personnel to assist the Iraqi government in building partner capacity and train, advise, and assist missions. To date Coalition partners have trained nearly 17,000 Iraqi security forces.

o   Twelve Coalition members have conducted over 9,500 air strikes in Iraq and Syria, including over 630 in support of the liberation of Ramadi by Iraqi Security Forces. These airstrikes have taken out over 3,450 ISIL vehicles and tanks, over 1,120 artillery and mortar positions, 1,170 oil infrastructure components to include tanker trucks, oil storage tanks, collection points, and well heads, and more than 13,500 fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings, bunkers, staging areas and barracks, including 39 training camps, in Iraq and Syria. 

o   In December 2015 alone, Coalition airstrikes killed dozens of senior ISIL leaders, including external operations planners, explosives facilitators, financial emirs, and other key positions.

o   Most recently, the ongoing progress in Ramadi illustrates an empowered Iraqi military working side-by-side with local Sunnis to retake their city.  While there is still a great deal of work to be done to secure and hold Ramadi, the Iraqi Security Force have dealt a blow to ISIL.

o   In Syria, Kurdish and Arab groups aligned against ISIL seized Kobane, Tal Abyad, al-Hawl, and the Tishreen Dam, cutting ISIL’s access to all but 98 kilometers of the Turkish border and helping to isolate ar-Raqqah.

o   Nineteen Coalition nations have provided supporting aircraft, including transport, surveillance, and aerial re-fueling capabilities.

o   We have made significant progress in degrading ISIL’s ability to benefit from energy resources. The Coalition has conducted 68 airstrikes in Operation Tidal Wave II in Syria, targeting oil infrastructure, supply lines, and hundreds of tanker trucks that transit oil directly from ISIL. These strikes have taken out key fields in Deir-ez-Zour that once accounted for more than half of ISIL’s monthly oil revenue.  Coalition strikes have reduced ISIL oil revenues by about 30 percent since November 2015.

Political, Stabilization and Humanitarian Efforts

  • The United States continues to support the Iraqi government’s progress toward effective and inclusive governance, stabilization efforts, and reconciliation.

o   Over a dozen Coalition partners have collectively contributed over $50 million to the Funding Facility for Iraq Stabilization.

o   The retaking of Tikrit in April 2015 and the successful return of 90 percent of its residents to date provided valuable lessons that will guide stabilization efforts in newly liberated areas.

o   The U.S. and our Coalition partners, working with the Iraqi government, have now retrained more than a thousand Iraqi police officers to provide security in liberated areas.

  • The United States also continues to be the largest single-country donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, providing more than $5.1 billion to date.

o   In Syria, the U.S. Government has provided more than $4.5 billion to date and USAID is providing emergency assistance to 5 million Syrians every month, including 4 million people inside Syria. USAID is also providing food assistance to Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

o   In Iraq, the U.S. Government has provided more than $603 million in life-saving humanitarian assistance for the Iraqi people including critically needed relief items, food, shelter, clean water, and medical services.

  • The United States continues to lead the international diplomatic effort to reach a negotiated political transition that removes Bashar al-Asad from power and ultimately leads to an inclusive government that is responsive to the needs of all Syrians.  The Asad regime’s continued brutality against the Syrian people drives the influx of foreign fighters who join extremists’ ranks, including ISIL.  Also, the Asad regime’s purchase of oil from ISIL and its unwillingness to target extremists have helped ISIL and other terrorist groups to flourish.

o   So long as Asad remains, foreign fighters will continue to flow into Syria.  This is why we have brought together partners in the region, Europe, Russia, and Iran to work towards a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria.

o   Members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) have agreed to a notional timeline for a political transition, which was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in December 2015.  

Civilian Efforts to Counter ISIL

  • The United States and our Coalition partners have made progress stemming the flow of foreign fighters, and disrupting ISIL’s propaganda machine and its financial networks.

o   The Counter ISIL Coalition Working Group on Foreign Terrorist Fighters (WGFTF), co-led by the Netherlands and Turkey, is working with member countries to implement the obligations and recommendations set forth in UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2178.  Today approximately 45 countries have enacted laws or amendments to create greater obstacles for traveling into Iraq and Syria, at least 35 countries have arrested foreign terrorist fighters or aspirants, and 12 countries have successfully prosecuted foreign terrorist fighters.

o   At least 50 countries plus the United Nations now contribute foreign terrorist fighter profiles to INTERPOL, a 400 percent increase over a two-year period.  Fifty-two countries are sharing foreign fighter profiles through INTERPOL’s Counterterrorism Fusion Center, and the United States has bilateral arrangements with 40 international partners for sharing terrorist travel information.

o   To counter ISIL’s online propaganda and recruitment network, the State Department has launched a Global Engagement Center to integrate and synchronize our communications against violent extremist groups, including ISIL and al-Qa’ida. This new center will shift focus on countering violent extremist messaging away from direct messaging and toward a growing emphasis on empowering and enabling partners, both government and non-government, across the globe.

o   The Counter ISIL Finance Group (CIFG), which the U.S. co-leads with Italy and Saudi Arabia, is an integrated part of the broader Coalition and made up of 30 members worldwide focused on disrupting ISIL financing.  As part of its ongoing work, the CIFG is specifically focusing on information exchange, targeting ISIL’s oil revenues, combatting the financing of ISIL affiliates, and addressing ISIL sales of antiquities, among other topics.

o   The United States chaired a special meeting of the UN Security Council with finance ministers in New York on combating ISIL finance and all forms of terrorist financing.  At this meeting, Security Council finance ministers unanimously adopted a Security Council resolution that improves the international community’s ability to disrupt ISIL financing and to counter the financing of terrorism more broadly.

Domestic Efforts

  • Since 2014, the Department of Justice and the FBI have arrested approximately 65 individuals in ISIL-related matters.
  • Domestically, since the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) last February, the United States has strengthened our efforts to prevent extremists from radicalizing and mobilizing recruits.

o   The CVE Task Force announced in January 2016 will be a permanent interagency task force hosted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with overall leadership provided by DHS and the Department of Justice, with additional staffing provided by representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center, and other supporting departments and agencies. The CVE Task Force will (1) integrate whole-of-government CVE programs and activities; (2) leverage new CVE efforts (3) conduct ongoing strategic planning; and (4) assess and evaluate CVE programs and activities.

o   The DHS Office for Community Partnerships continues to find innovative ways to support communities that seek to discourage violent extremism and undercut terrorist narratives.

  • In 2015 alone, the Treasury and State Departments sanctioned more than 30 ISIL-linked senior leaders, financiers, foreign terrorist facilitators, and organizations, helping isolate ISIL from the international financial system.
  • The U.S. government worked closely with Iraqi authorities to ensure that approximately 90 bank branches within ISIL-controlled territory in Iraq are completely cut off from the Iraqi and international financial systems.
  • Working with the Federal Reserve and the Central Bank of Iraq, we have put in place information exchanges and safeguards to deny ISIL access to U.S. banknotes.  This led to the isolation of key exchange houses within Iraq that previously had access to several million dollars.  As part of this effort, the Government of Iraq has prohibited over 100 exchange houses located in ISIL-controlled territory or associated with ISIL from accessing the currency auctions, disrupting one of ISIL’s primary means of accessing and moving its funds.

“Over the next six months we will continue to accelerate our counter-ISIL strategy across all of our lines of effort. We will work with Coalition partners to drive out ISIL from the remaining stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border it has seized; clear and stabilize the Euphrates River Valley; cut off the remaining connections between ar-Raqqah and Mosul; increase the number of Iraqi Sunnis in the fight against ISIL by integrating them into the army, local police, and tribal mobilization structures; as well as advance the stabilization of newly liberated areas, facilitating the safe, voluntary return of thousands of internally displaced persons and restoring local communities. ”

“For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology,” President Obama said during the State of the Union,. “With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.”

But he added, “If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  Take a vote.

“But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.”

For more information on the President’s strategy to fight ISIL and the work the Global Coalition is doing, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/isil-strategy.

 

Obama 2016 SOTU: ‘The Future We Want Will Only Happen if We Fix Our Politics’

President Barack Obama delivers the 2016 State of the Union Address © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Barack Obama delivers the 2016 State of the Union Address © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

President Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union message, the last of his Administration, resounded like the Obama of 2008 and 2009 – the themes and tones of unity and his confidence in the spirit of the American people and the values that underlie this nation still dominant, his passion, energy and enthusiasm for his role as President and Commander-in-Chief roaring to the surface. But instead of being overtaken by cynicism under the unprecedented personal attacks and disrespect he has been shown since the very first State of the Union address in 2009, Obama seemed incredibly relaxed and comfortable in his own skin, still filled with optimism, excitement, if sharpened by his experience. 

Here is President Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union address to the nation, highlighted:

9:10 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I’ve been there.  I’ll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.)

And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform — (applause) — and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again.

But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won’t let up until they get done.

But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

We live in a time of extraordinary change — change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

America has been through big changes before — wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did — because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril — we emerged stronger and better than before.

What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation — our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law — these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come.

In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That’s how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That’s how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That’s how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.)

But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer — regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.

First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.)

Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us — especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.)

Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.)

And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That’s just part of a manufacturing surge that’s created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.)

Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true — and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious — is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automatedCompanies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and — (applause) — offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.)

And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that’s good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job — we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don’t have children.  (Applause.)

But there are some areas where we just have to be honest — it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it’s an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)

The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I’m not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That’s part of a brighter future.  (Applause.)

In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)

Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That’s who we are.

And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more.  

Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.)

Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)

But even if — even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record — until 2015 turned out to be even hotter — why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.)

Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal — in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy — something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.)

Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don’t show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.)

Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve — that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it’s within our grasp. 

Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It’s not even close. (Applause.)  It’s not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us.  (Applause.)

I mean, it’s useful to level the set here, because when we don’t, we don’t make good decisions.

Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria — client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality. 

It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages — they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don’t need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)

And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.  

If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)

Our foreign policy has to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage. 

We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it’s done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it’s the lesson of Iraq — and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)

Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)

That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers — they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations — (applause) — opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over — lift the embargo.  (Applause.)

The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world — except when we kill terrorists — or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick — (applause) — it’s the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That’s within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.)

That’s American strength.  That’s American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)

And that’s why we need to reject any politics — any politics — that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I’m standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.)

“We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that’s how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

The future we want — all of us want — opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids — all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country — different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest. 

Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office. 

But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task — or any President’s — alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren’t enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor.  

But that means if we want a better politics — and I’m addressing the American people now — if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.)  

We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution — because it’s a problem.  And most of you don’t like raising money.  I know; I’ve done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that. 

But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process — in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected — that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.  

What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don’t care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background. 

We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.  

So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it — our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life — and not just during election time — so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day.  

It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.

And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don’t seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off.

I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over — and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters — and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.)

I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.)

I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count — because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

That’s the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.

And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.)

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

END               10:11 P.M. EST

See also:

In Final SOTU, Obama Summons Americans to Take Back the Political Process

See Who Will Be Guests in First Lady’s Box for Obama’s Final State of the Union Address

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© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com,  

 

In Final SOTU, Obama Summons Americans to Take Back the Political Process

House Speaker Paul Ryan suppresses a smile and otherwise sits on his hands, stony faced, during President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address, a poor sign in light of Obama's call for the need for bipartisan cooperation and compromise © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
House Speaker Paul Ryan suppresses a smile and otherwise sits on his hands, stony faced, during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, a poor sign in light of Obama’s call for the need for bipartisan cooperation and compromise © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union Address evoked the Obama of 2008 and 2009 – eager, enthusiastic, passionate.  The themes were echoes of all his major speeches – evoking the values that make America great, the vision of what American could be, and the path we can take to toward that “more perfect union.”

“Progress is not inevitable,” he said. “It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?” 

And again, he said, “The future we want — all of us want — opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids — all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.” 

Instead of focusing on the past, he looked to the future, clear-eyed and realistic, armed with the experience of seven years as President and Commander-in-Chief, and listed “four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer — regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress:

“First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?

“Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us — especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?

“Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?

“And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?”

He began so matter-of-factly, listing the transformational accomplishments of his administration tripping off the tongue – rescuing the economy from the brink of collapse, record increases in private sector jobs creation (more than 14 million new jobs), cutting the unemployment rate in half, reducing the federal deficit by 70%, raising the percentage of Americans with health care to record levels, raising America’s standing in the world and leading on an unprecedented Climate Agreement signed by 196 nations. But he ended with a fascinating admission of regret and his own failing at the corrosive partisanship, a warning of threat to the body politic and a call to action by the American people to rescue their democracy before it is too late.

“Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

“Too many Americans feel that way right now,” he said, confessing “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.” 

In fact, throughout his presidency, he has reached out, pleaded for the “good ideas” that Republicans might want to offer instead of just tearing down – immigration reform, health care (that’s why it took 18 months), gun safety, climate action. The list goes on and on and on. 

“But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task — or any President’s — alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren’t enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor.” 

Vice President Joe Biden rises, but House Speaker Paul Ryan sits on his hands during President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Vice President Joe Biden rises, but House Speaker Paul Ryan sits on his hands during President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But the signs weren’t good, because throughout his speech, with the exception of a shout-out to the troops and when he said, “I think outdated regulations that need to be changed,” the Republicans and House Speaker Paul Ryan sat steely throughout the speech, looking angry and disagreeable. 

Looking passed the Senators, Congressmen, Supreme Court Justices, cabinet members, military leaders that filled the Capitol, straight to the American people, he warned of the corruption of the political process, swallowed by rich donors and well-funded special interests, policies that make it harder, not easier to vote, and a system of gerrymandering where politicians get to select their voters, rather than voters selected their elected officials. 

“But that means if we want a better politics — and I’m addressing the American people now — if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.)

“We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution — because it’s a problem.  And most of you don’t like raising money.  I know; I’ve done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

“But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process — in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected — that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.”

Evoking President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning of the impending threat of the military-industrial complex to democracy, Obama said:

“What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don’t care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

“We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.

After attending the White House Kids’ “State Dinner” as part of Let’s Move! and hearing the President and First Lady’s challenge for kids to make a difference in their own communities, 12-year old Braeden Mannering of Bear, DE, started his own nonprofit, Brae’s Brown Bags (3B), which provides healthy food to homeless and low-income individuals in his community. His mission is also to raise awareness about the problems of food insecurity and poverty, and to empower and inspire youth across the nation to become part of the solution. © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
After attending the White House Kids’ “State Dinner” as part of Let’s Move! and hearing the President and First Lady’s challenge for kids to make a difference in their own communities, 12-year old Braeden Mannering of Bear, DE, started his own nonprofit, Brae’s Brown Bags (3B), which provides healthy food to homeless and low-income individuals in his community. His mission is also to raise awareness about the problems of food insecurity and poverty, and to empower and inspire youth across the nation to become part of the solution. © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it — our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life — and not just during election time — so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day.”  

Obama began the speech veritably skipping over the big legislative items that remain to be done, that a President would normally lay out for Congress in the State of the Union, but showed his recognition that a Republican Congress that has obstructed for seven years is  unlikely to undertake anything significant in the mere 80 days the Republicans have scheduled to be in session during this election year. Still, they tripped over the tongue: immigration reform, criminal justice, gun safety, finally shuttering Guantanamo prison as he has tried to do since his first day in office. He held out some hope that the Republicans might support criminal justice reform and the Trans Pacific Partnership because these align with the Republicans’ corporate sponsors’ agenda and got big applause from the right when he said there are regulations that are outdated.

But then he came back with, “But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts… in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.”

Then he proceeded to lay out a clear-eyed, realistic vision of what could happen, what must happen in light of the realities in which we live – framed by economic and social change that is happening whether or not people accept it, and, yes, terrorism.

Making it clear he does not intend to be a lame-duck president, frittering away the last year of his presidency, he listed specific programs that he hopes to see action on – the most significant being a “moonshot”-style initiative to marshal resources and research through the National Institutes of Health to cure cancer, naming Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his son Beau Biden to cancer months ago, to head it.

Similarly, citing the dramatic gains in developing clean, renewable energy, he hinted at a carbon tax to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources, and move toward putting a price on carbon.  “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.”

He listed a number of education initiatives including:  providing Pre-K for all; offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes “that make them job-ready on day one”; “recruit and support more great teachers for our kids”; make college affordable for every American; provide two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student.

And noting that despite the improvements in the economy, so many Americans feel left behind and fearful of the changes swirling about them, he focused on easing the economic security of the beleaguered middle class, saying “we must strengthen, not weaken Social Security and Medicare.” Also, “make [retirement] benefits portable and protect against losses;” and “promote economic security by offering retraining in the event of job loss and wage insurance.” 

Among the issues glossed over, clearly mindful that the Republican-dominated Congress would not act, was reference to gun violence prevention measures or the executive orders he announced in absence of any Congressional action. He simply included “protecting our kids from gun violence” in the list of unfinished items of concern. The camera did not even have time to pan to the empty chair left between First Lady Michelle Obama and Connecticut Governor Daniel P. Malloy, left for the countless thousands victims of gun violence.

“We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice – because they need the rest of us to speak for them,” the White House stated prior to the address. “To tell their stories. To honor their memory. To support the Americans whose lives have been forever changed by the terrible ripple effect of gun violence – survivors who’ve had to learn to live with a disability, or without the love of their life. To remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this.”

He gave a steely, no-nonsense declaration of America’s military strength and leadership in the world, and its commitment to defend Americans and prosecute terrorists.

            “No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us.

“I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states.”

But he affirmed the success of the so-called Obama Doctrine, elevating diplomacy over a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later strategy, particularly with the Iran nuclear agreement and in opening up Cuba after 50 years of fruitless isolation that did not produce a democratic Cuba, and glossed over the success in leading the way to a historic Climate Action Agreement signed by 196 countries.

And with a clear arrow sent in the direction of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and the extreme rhetoric of the Republican presidential candidates, he warned, “But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages — they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.” 

Obama could have crowed more than he did in saying,With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.” By some reports, ISIL has lost control over 40% of the territory it had held at its peak, but Obama did not mention this.

But he challenged Congress to act instead of criticize: “If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.”

“The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.”

“The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world — except when we kill terrorists — or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity.”

“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.”

President Obama signs autographs after finishing the State of the Union Address, with Congressman Steve Israel © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama signs autographs after finishing the State of the Union Address, with Congressman Steve Israel © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Obama’s State of the Union message, ending with the riveting phrase so well placed at the end –  resounded like the Obama of 2008 and 2009 – the themes and tones of unity and his confidence in the spirit of the American people and the values that underlie this nation still dominant, his passion, energy and enthusiasm for his role as President and Commander-in-Chief roaring to the surface. But instead of being overtaken by cynicism under the unprecedented personal attacks and disrespect he has been shown since the very first State of the Union address in 2009, Obama seemed incredibly relaxed and comfortable in his own skin, still filled with optimism, excitement, if sharpened by his experience:

He described America’s spirit of discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship, its diversity and cherished freedom.

“That’s the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.

“And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.”

See the speech, highlighted. 

See also: See Who Will Be Guests in First Lady’s Box for Obama’s Final State of the Union Address

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© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go towww.news-photos-features.com,  

See Who Will be Guests in First Lady’s Box for Obama’s Final State of the Union Address

President Obama at the 2015 State of the Union Address. At this, his last SOTU and possibly the last formal address to all branches of government and the cabinet together, guests invited to sit in the First Lady's box have been selected to represent accomplishments of his Administration. One seat is being left vacant to represent victims of gun violence © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama at the 2015 State of the Union Address. At this, his last SOTU and possibly the last formal address to all branches of government and the cabinet together, guests invited to sit in the First Lady’s box have been selected to represent accomplishments of his Administration. One seat is being left vacant to represent victims of gun violence © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin/News-Photos-Features.com

For the President’s final State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, the individuals who will be seated in the guest box of First Lady Michelle Obama are intended to represent the progress Barack Obama has made since he first delivered this speech seven years ago – “from the brink of a second Great Depression and two costly wars to an economy that is growing and renewed American leadership abroad.”

“Their stories – of struggle and success – highlight where we have been and where America is going in the future, building on the best of what our country has to offer,” the White House said. “he guests personify President Obama’s time in office and most importantly, they represent who we are as Americans: inclusive and compassionate, innovative and courageous.”

But one seat is being left vacant for all the victims of gun violence – to dramatize what has been the most frustrating unfulfilled goal of his administration. Last week, the President took a series of commonsense steps to help reduce gun violence in America and make our communities safer.

“We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice – because they need the rest of us to speak for them,” the White House stated. “To tell their stories. To honor their memory. To support the Americans whose lives have been forever changed by the terrible ripple effect of gun violence – survivors who’ve had to learn to live with a disability, or without the love of their life. To remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this.”

The invitees who will sit in the box with the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, at the State of the Union Address on Tuesday include:

Sue Ellen Allen (Scottsdale, AZ)

Criminal Justice Reform

Sue Ellen Allen knows the difficulties that formerly incarcerated individuals face after prison – both as the co-founder of a nonprofit helping inmates reenter society and as a former inmate starting over after her release in 2009. Her organization, Gina’s Team, supports women in Arizona prisons and upon release, gives them the resources they need and teaches them how give back to the community. Named for her cellmate in prison who died in incarceration, Sue Ellen started Gina’s Team with Gina’s parents in an effort to provide women a path out of prison, back into the community and out of additional trouble with the law. She wrote the President to thank him for the launch of a new pilot program that enables incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and to encourage a national dialog that includes women in prison reform. Sue Ellen is proud to be accompanied to Washington by Gina’s mother, Diane, whose daughter gave her a renewed purpose in life.

Gloria Balenski (Schaumburg, IL)

Letter Writer

Like many American families during the Great Recession, Gloria and Norb Balenski faced real economic struggles: Gloria lost her job after 34 years at a major electronics company, the money they invested for their son’s college dried up in the free-falling stock market, and Norb’s job at Chevrolet was threatened when the auto industry cratered. But the actions the President took when he came into office to pull us away from the brink of depression and to secure quality, affordable health care for millions of Americans, helped safeguard Norb’s job and his health insurance. And just in time as he suffered a major heart attack in 2012, racking up $400,000 in medical bills. Gloria and Norb wrote the President a letter last year thanking him for the economic priorities he pursued at a time of turmoil, which Gloria credits with helping her family to bounce back. Today, Gloria is retired, her husband has recovered, and her son recently married, has a job and purchased a new home.

Jennifer Bragdon (Austin, TX)

Community College Student

Jennifer Bragdon’s story showcases how community colleges can adapt to the needs of students. Jennifer, 42, and her husband, George, work full time to pay for bills and provide childcare for their one-year-old daughter, and Jennifer’s other responsibilities restrict her to one class at a time. Even though she won’t graduate for a few more years, she plans to complete her degree and become a middle school teacher. She enrolled in a new developmental math course at Austin Community College (ACC) after being out of a traditional classroom for more than 20 years, and has now successfully completed her college algebra requirements. In March, Dr. Biden met Jennifer at ACC and learned about the campus’ high-tech learning lab that provides more than 600 computer stations for individualized learning and small group sessions, highlighting the ways community colleges are providing flexibility and support for students to stay on track to earn their degrees. Jennifer works as a massage therapist and lives in Austin, Texas with her family.

Edith Childs (Greenwood, SC)

Greenwood County Councilmember

When then-Senator Obama visited a June 2007 campaign stop in Greenwood, South Carolina, a small group of 38 supporters captured the enthusiasm and drive that defined the election. And Edith Childs, a Greenwood County Councilmember, summed up the passion with a simple chant: “Fired up! Ready to go!” When she noticed Senator Obama’s surprise at a fairly small gathering, she sought to energize the crowd calling out, “Fired up!” to which they replied “Fired up!” “Ready to go!” she countered. This call and response captivated larger and larger crowds, and became widely recognized as the unofficial slogan of the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. In December 2009, President Obama invited Edith to the White House for the first holiday celebration hosted by the Obamas in recognition of her ability to distill the enthusiasm that helped carry him to the White House. Edith lives in Greenwood with her husband, Charles. They have three children and six grandchildren.

Cynthia “Cindy” K. Dias (Las Vegas, NV)

Veteran, Veterans Homelessness Advocate

Cynthia “Cindy” K. Dias is a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War in a hospital ship as a registered nurse. She managed care for wounded soldiers, and worked alongside the Chaplin as the designated official to provide notification and care for families of wounded and deceased officers. After her service, she worked as a registered nurse in Florida and Louisiana and eventually moved to Las Vegas, where she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and lost her job before eventually also losing her home. She found a place to live at Veterans Village, a non-profit working with the city of Las Vegas to provide resources for homeless veterans. She now volunteers with Veterans Village, and she works to care and advocate for veterans in the city. In November 2015, Las Vegas announced it had housed every homeless veteran as part of the Administration’s Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. This challenge was launched in 2014 by First Lady Michelle Obama as part the First Lady and Dr. Biden’s Joining Forces initiative.

Mark Davis (Washington, D.C.)

Small Business Owner

A former basketball player in Washington, D.C., Mark Davis was inspired by the President’s focus on climate change to do something to protect the planet and help his community. Mark took classes, got certified, and started a small business that trains low-income individuals to install solar panels and prepares community members for local green tech jobs. Mark’s company, WDC Solar, is growing, profitable, and giving back. Since 2012, WDC has installed more than 125 solar systems in D.C. at no cost to homeowners with good credit through tax credits and private funds. One of Mark’s proudest moments was working with D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility to start a low-income program that has provided funding to install panels on more than 300 homes. And once the panels are installed, the extra power results in a profit every month – money going back into the community he’s working to transform. In 2016 he plans to implement similar programs in New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Cary Dixon (Huntington, WV)

Mother, Opioid Reform Advocate

In October, Cary Dixon joined the President at a community forum in Charleston, West Virginia, on the opioid epidemic and spoke candidly about the struggles of having an adult child with a substance use disorder. Prescription drug abuse and heroin use have taken a heartbreaking toll on too many Americans and their families, while straining law enforcement and treatment programs. The President believes that resources should be put toward preventing substance use disorders from developing and getting effective treatment to those who need it. As many families have learned, substance use disorders do not discriminate and Cary has turned her experience into action, speaking up for those who are often too stigmatized to say anything. “For too long, we’ve been silent,” she told the panel. “And I think that is holding us back. We need to open our voices so that people don’t feel ashamed. This is a disease. It is a sickness.”

Lydia Doza (Klamath Falls, OR // Anchorage, AK)

College Student, STEM Advocate

Originally from Anchorage, Lydia Doza’s upbringing in three Alaskan tribes – Inupiaq, Tsimshian, and Haida – as well as her grandmother Joanne’s influence taught her the value of an education and the importance of mentorship. She discovered her passion for engineering early on through her high school robotics team, and, through her involvement with the Administration’s Generation Indigenous initiative to support Native American youth, she’s engaging with rural youth in disciplines across the STEM fields to apply their skills and education. Lydia, 24, is currently pursuing a degree in software engineering technology at Oregon Tech, where she’s also an event organizer for Engineering Ambassadors, which focuses on outreach to kids as young as three years old through high school to encourage a career in engineering. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Lydia hopes to work full time as a software engineer while continuing her involvement in the community to promote the importance of STEM and higher education. Lydia ultimately hopes to pursue a master’s degree in data science and encourage more women to go into STEM. Lydia’s mother, Maria Graham, and two brothers, Dorien and Leland, live in Wasilla, Alaska.

Refaai Hamo (Troy, MI)

Syrian Refugee

Growing up in Syria, Refaai Hamo lived what seemed to be the kind of life associated with the American Dream – the son of a farmer and housewife, he worked construction at night to pay his way through college on his way to a PhD, married his college sweetheart and built a family together. This life and happiness changed forever when a Syrian government anti-personnel missile tore through the complex Refaai designed and where his family lived; in total seven of his family members died, including his wife and one daughter. After the bombing, he fled to Turkey but couldn’t make a living without a residence permit and was diagnosed with stomach cancer in a country where he couldn’t seek treatment without insurance or health benefits. After two years in Turkey, he received refugee status to move to Troy, Michigan. Refaai’s story was featured on the website Humans of New York, where he received an outpouring of support and sympathy – including from the President. The President wrote in response to his story, “Welcome to your new home. You’re part of what makes America great.” Refaai arrived in Detroit with his three daughters and son on December 18, and like other families displaced from their homeland, they hope to find a new one in America.

Lisa Jaster (Houston, TX)

Major, U.S. Army Reserve, Ranger School Graduate

Major Lisa Jaster became the first female Army Reserve officer to graduate from the Ranger School, the elite leadership course of the Army. The 37-year-old engineer and mother of two is only the third woman to graduate from Ranger School, which began including female soldiers last year following an Administration directive to lift the ban on women in combat. Lisa graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York in 2000. She was on active duty for seven years and deployed in support of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom before leaving active duty in 2007 to work at Shell Oil Co. In 2012, Lisa returned to service, joining the U.S. Army Reserve, and took a leave of absence from Shell last April to pursue Ranger School. She is married to a Marine with whom she has two children, aged seven and three.

Mayor Mark Luttrell (Shelby County, TN)

Shelby County Mayor

Throughout his career in public service, Republican Mayor Mark Luttrell has built partnerships with local, state and federal agencies, and his unique background has focused him on criminal justice reform. As mayor of Shelby County, Tennessee, he helped create specialty courts for drug, mental health, and veterans’ cases to provide resources for effective rehabilitation instead of ineffectual incarceration. The county also put in place measures to reduce recidivism by streamlining and pooling resources to better provide formerly incarcerated individuals with the tools they need to re-enter society. Afterward, he was appointed as Director of Corrections for Shelby County, Tennessee and served there until he was elected Sheriff in 2002 and subsequently as Mayor in 2010. Mayor Lutrell and his wife, Pat, have three children and six grandchildren.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (Hartford, CT)

Connecticut Governor

Currently in his second term as Governor of Connecticut, Dannel P. Malloy has pursued many of the progressive priorities that the President laid out to make America stronger. From his criminal justice reforms, including a “Second Chance Society” initiative that emphasizes successfully reintegrating individuals with nonviolent offenses into society, to common-sense gun safety laws following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, Gov. Malloy has balanced important social reforms with strong economic priorities: Connecticut led America as the first state in the country to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 and pass legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave. Gov. Malloy also oversaw the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act, driving down the state’s uninsured rate to historic lows and delivered the best job growth since the 1990s. Gov. Malloy and his wife, Cathy, have three sons, Dannel, Ben and Sam.

Braeden Mannering (Bear, DE)

Let’s Move!

After attending the White House Kids’ “State Dinner” as part of Let’s Move! and hearing the President and First Lady’s challenge for kids to make a difference in their own communities, Braeden Mannering, 12, was inspired to act. Braeden started his own nonprofit, Brae’s Brown Bags (3B), which provides healthy food to homeless and low-income individuals in his community. His mission is also to raise awareness about the problems of food insecurity and poverty, and to empower and inspire youth across the nation to become part of the solution. To date, Braeden has activated more than 2,600 volunteers, provided more than 4,500 “brown bags” of healthy food, and raised more than $52,000 for hunger relief. He co-hosted the first “hunger conference” in Delaware to include youth, and he continues to spread his mission in Delaware and other states, speaking at schools, conferences, and legislative sessions. Braeden is in sixth grade at Gauger-Cobbs Middle School and lives in Bear, Delaware with his mother Christy, stepfather Brian, brother Finnegan and sister Amelia. Braeden’s father, Michael, his fiancée Jennifer and their son Michael live in Middletown, Delaware.

Satya Nadella (Bellevue, WA)

Microsoft CEO

Satya Nadella is Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, a position he’s held since February 2014 at the company he joined in 1992. Microsoft has been a leader in expanding access to computer science in K-12 classrooms, and in Teach.org, a private public partnership to increase awareness of and support for the teaching profession. In September, the company announced a new $75 million effort to expand computer science education, including opportunities for engineers from Microsoft and other companies with teachers to team-teach computer science. In October 2015, under Satya’s leadership, Microsoft increased its paid leave benefits by eight weeks and now includes 20 weeks of paid leave for new mothers and 12 weeks for non-birth parents. Originally from Hyderabad, India, Satya received a master’s in computer science and a master’s in business administration from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and University of Chicago, respectively. Satya and his wife, Anupuma, have three children.

Jim Obergefell (Cincinnati, OH)

Activist

Jim Obergefell was the named plaintiff in the landmark marriage equality case Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled same-sex couples nationwide have the Constitutional right to marry. In 2013, Jim married his partner of 20 years, John, who was dying of ALS. Their marriage – performed in Maryland – wasn’t recognized in their home state of Ohio, setting off a legal proceeding over whether the marriage should be recognized under Ohio law and listed on John’s death certificate. While they won the initial legal battle, Ohio appealed, and their case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which declared marriage equality the law of the land. Jim considers himself an accidental activist, one who became entwined in a political statement larger than himself – a statement of equality and dignity that Americans have been fighting for since this nation’s founding – and he now remains committed to ensuring the civil rights for all Americans.

Chief Kathleen O’Toole (Seattle, WA)

Police Chief, Community Policing 

Since 2014, Chief Kathleen O’Toole has led the Seattle Police Department in developing its approach to community policing, and her focus on improving officer morale, implementing new policies and optimizing department resources has received national attention. Under her leadership, the department tested a six-month pilot program for body-worn police cameras focused on public transparency, and the Department of Justice awarded the department a $600,000 grant to expand the program. Last year, the Seattle Police Department presented its policies at the White House Police Data Initiative as part of its renewed emphasis on accountability and transparency. Prior to Kathleen’s role as Chief, she served as Chief Inspector of the Gardia Síochána Inspectorate in Ireland, responsible for developing best practices of the Irish police service and rose the ranks of Massachusetts law enforcement, finishing as the first female Boston police commissioner in 2004. Chief O’Toole is married to a retired police detective, Dan O’Toole, and they have a daughter, Meghan.

Ryan Reyes (San Bernardino, CA)

Activist

Ryan Reyes’s partner Larry “Daniel” Kaufman was one of the 14 victims of the December 2 terrorist attack at Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. Daniel was a job trainer for adults with developmental disabilities at the Coffee N More shop, and he was on his lunch break at the time of the attack. He is credited with saving the lives of four people when he warned others, urging them to safety, before being shot and killed in the attack. Since Daniel’s death, Ryan, 32, has been vocal about the need for tolerance of all and rejection of the radicalized. “I speak for both Daniel and myself when I say that this attack should NOT encourage people to treat Muslims any differently than they would anyone else,” he wrote to media in the aftermath of the attack. “The twisted actions and beliefs of a few should not be used to view the majority.”

Ronna Rice (Greeley, CO)

Small Business Owner

A family-operated company since 1924 across five generations, Rice’s Lucky Clover Honey specializes in American raw and unfiltered honey for export globally. As CEO, Ronna Rice leads the business. The company has expanded across the U.S. and around the world, most recently in Japan, South Korea and China, allowing the company to grow domestically and hire more employees. Rice’s Lucky Clover Honey has export sales per year of about $500,000, and the 15 jobs in the company are supported by those exports. The company is based in Greeley, Colorado, and Ronna runs the company with her husband Jim, their three children, their son-in-law and a family friend.

Cedric Rowland (Chicago, IL)

ACA Navigator

Cedric Rowland is the lead navigator for Near North Health Service Corporation in Chicago. Working with people to find the best plans available at a price they can afford, Affordable Care Act navigators help people across the country take advantage of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and are part of the success of the law. Since November 1, 2015, nearly 11.3 million consumers – more than 3 million of them new customers – have signed up for health care in this open enrollment alone. Our uninsured rate is at the lowest rate on record, coverage is affordable, and we’re seeing a historic slowdown in the growth of health care costs. Cedric’s role in this progress can be seen in the story of Stephanie Lucas. Stephanie has diabetes and no longer qualified for Medicaid, but with Cedric’s help she transitioned to a Marketplace plan that met her needs and let her keep her doctor at a price she could afford – $62 a month after tax credits. Stephanie will watch the State of the Union from the White House. She thanks Cedric, and navigators like him, for helping Americans enroll in quality, affordable health care under the Affordable Care Act. Cedric is a new father of a baby girl.

Naveed Shah (Springfield, VA)

U.S. Army Veteran

Naveed Shah, originally from Saudi Arabia, grew up in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Springfield, Virginia after immigrating to the United States with his Pakistani parents. Like many immigrants who arrive here as children, Naveed noted that his birth country felt foreign while America is home. The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 marked the ultimate distortion of Naveed’s faith – something he set out to combat, enlisting in the U.S. Army in 2006. He served our country for four years and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Naveed returned to his hometown in 2010 for college and to work with veterans groups assisting in the transition between military and civilian life. When not volunteering, Naveed works as a real estate agent in Virginia and lives with his fiancé, Ashley, and 7-year-old son, Yusuf.

Earl Smith (Austin, TX)

Veteran

Earl Smith first met then-Senator Barack Obama in February 2008 on the campaign trail at the Austin Hyatt Regency where he worked as the director of security. Encountering him in an elevator, Earl gave the Senator a military patch he had worn serving with an artillery brigade in Vietnam that sustained 10,041 casualties and received 13 Medals of Honor. Smith had held onto his patch for 40 years – from Vietnam, to his 1977 pardon after three years in prison for a wrongful conviction, to global work in the hospitality industry – before parting with it in the elevator that day. Then-Senator Obama carried the patch in his pocket for the rest of the campaign, but Earl had no idea of the impact his story had on the President until he heard it directly from him in the Oval Office in 2013. The patch will be archived in the Obama Library – a reminder of the people who made up the movement that led the President to the White House. Earl and his wife of nearly 35 years, Claudia, have two children.

Spencer Stone (Sacramento, CA)

Staff Sergeant, U.S. Air Force

While on a Paris-bound train with his childhood friends Anthony Sadler and U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone made headlines worldwide in August when the three Americans prevented a potentially catastrophic act of terrorism. Spencer, his two friends and a fourth British passenger subdued a gunman armed with a box cutter, a pistol, a can of lighter fluid, and an assault rifle with 300 rounds of ammunition as he tried to open fire aboard the crowded train. While restraining the suspect who repeatedly slashed with the box cutter, Spencer incurred injury to his neck and hand, nearly losing his finger, and upon return to the United States received a Purple Heart, the Airman’s Medal, and a promotion to Staff Sergeant. The President invited the three friends to the White House where he thanked them in person for saving so many lives and for representing the U.S. with heroism and humility. The 23-year-old EMT hopes to continue his work in medicine and lives in Sacramento, California.

Oscar Vazquez (Fort Worth, TX)

Veteran, DREAMer, STEM leader

Like many DREAMers, Oscar came to the United States as a child in search of a better life. From age 12 when he moved from Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona, Oscar excelled in the classroom. He excelled as a STEM student at Carl Hayden High School and led an unlikely and inspiring story of a group of under-resourced Hispanic high school students who took on an MIT team in an underwater robotics competition and won. That opportunity led to a college education in the STEM field, earning a B.S.E. in mechanical engineering from Arizona State University in May 2009. But without legal status, he couldn’t secure a job to provide for his new wife and newborn child. He returned to Mexico to apply for a visa, and with help from Sen. Dick Durbin, who spoke from the Senate Floor about Oscar’s case, he was granted a green card in August 2010. Six months later, Oscar enlisted in the Army to serve the country he loves and calls home. Oscar served one tour in Afghanistan and is now a proud U.S. citizen. He now works for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railways as a business analyst in a web app development team, and is a passionate advocate on behalf on expanding STEM opportunities for Latino and other under-represented youth.

Information about these guests and news about the State of the Union is available at WhiteHouse.gov/SOTU.

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© 2016 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com,  email krubin723@aol.com. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

New Year’s Resolution: Work for Social Justice so Less Need for Christmas Charity

Bah. Humbug. The obsession with giving gifts and turkeys and charity at Christmas does little to correct the systemic causes of poverty and inequality © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Bah. Humbug. The obsession with giving gifts and turkeys and charity at Christmas does little to correct the systemic causes of poverty and inequality © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin/News & Photo Features

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. As we start the New Year. let me tell you about the “hate” part.

I hate that Christmas becomes the one day of the year that is supposed to make up for all the actions that have resulted in the greatest inequality and lowest upward mobility since the Gilded Age and the greatest of all advanced countries. The American Dream has been exported, outsourced, and rendered to myth rather than reality here at home.

This year, Republicans – even as they cling more ardently than ever to Guns and God – don’t even pretend to care about the less fortunate, and promise to perpetuate and make worse the very policies that have resulted in 22 out of every 100 school-age children living in poverty (16 million), while 45% of children live in low income families; and 14.3 percent of households (17.5 million, or one in seven households) were living with food insecurity.  Rather than doing anything to correct the societal conditions that promulgate these travesties, they prey on people’s insecurities, foment their fears and anxieties (Ebola! ISIS!), but do everything possible to thwart progress to alleviate the real source of daily desperation.

I particularly hate the obsession with Toys for Tots – as if handing out a gift at Christmas will make up for all the misery and anxiety that children live through the rest of the year.

Many of the same people who make a show of handing out a turkey for Christmas also withdrew Food Stamps and attacked the school nutrition program, two of the mightiest tools in a limited tool chest to keep people out of poverty, while helping children succeed in school (hunger is a viscously powerful impediment to learning) – and not incidentally, stimulating local economies to break the vicious cycle.

“There are neighborhoods in Baltimore in which the life expectancy is 19 years less than other neighborhoods in the same city,” Susan Grisby reported in “The Most Racist Areas in the United States” (Daily Kos, May 3, 2015). “Residents of the Downtown/Seaton Hill neighborhood have a life expectancy lower than 229 other nations, exceeded only by Yemen. According to the Washington Post, 15 neighborhoods in Baltimore have a lower life expectancy than North Korea…And while those figures represent some of the most dramatic disparities in the life expectancy of black Americans as opposed to whites, a recent study of the health impacts of racism in America reveals that racist attitudes may cause up to 30,000 early deaths every year.”

We are living Charles Dickens “Christmas Carol” but while the classic story sets out the problems, I have always been troubled by the “moral”: that the rich guy who got so rich by exploiting the desperation of others can simply buy presents and give money away to redeem his soul. That’s not the solution.

But the “billionaire class” as Bernie Sanders likes to call them (George W. Bush called them “the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.”) has no real interest in correcting the institutional causes of systemic poverty – public education system, tax policy, criminal justice system, health care, environmental policy and rigged election system – all of which also bolster the “haves” and “have-mores”. That’s because the demise of the middle class as more and more sink into poverty suits their greater purpose, and what the hey, if you can just throw around some bucks here and there to redeem your soul and your reputation, while lording over everybody else, so much the better.

And because “cash” is increasingly linked with “political power” (the Right Wing Majority on the Supreme Court equated cash with speech and corporations with people for the purpose of buying politicians), the more cash the more power. The converse is the less cash, the more politically silent and invisible you are. People who are juggling multiple jobs and living pay check to pay check tend not to have the same political influence.

The Republicans are working feverishly to increase the invisibility of the underclass, mounting a Supreme Court challenge that will effectively erase unregistered voters from the census altogether, meaning less representation, less funding (which is also apportioned based on that head count).

“Wages are too high,” self-proclaimed billionaire Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, bellowed in response to a call to raise the federal minimum wage, doing a perfect but unintended imitation of Ebenezer Scrooge.

The United States of America is not supposed to have an aristocracy or a class system of privileges, but these policies have done exactly that. And in the nation with the highest percentage of incarcerated prisoners in the world (5% of population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated), you even have a new criminal classification, “Affluenza” – the “affliction” that resulted in a 16 year old getting off scot free after murdering four people with a car he was driving unlicensed and drunk (he has since fled after violating the terms of his probation). It’s a justice system which sees the very bankers who bankrupted millions of Americans and clawed back pensions and health benefits of bankrupt cities (Detroit), collecting millions of dollars on their parachutes.

It’s “free money” (actually, not really free, it comes out of others’ pockets) that they turn around and “invest” in political campaigns and, yes, in philanthropy.

Some of the most notorious “banksters”, like Madoff and Great Neck’s own Steven Cohen, whose investment company SAC racked up $9.4 billion, are also some of the most generous. Cohen is a $1 billion patron of the Robin Hood Foundation among other philanthropic contributions (museums, hospitals, schools).

Another Great Necker, Leonard Litwin, who made a fortune with his Glenwood Real Estate company, has been a generous supporter of Temple Beth-el of Great Neck, funding the Litwin Challenge that enabled the synagogue to pay off its multi-million dollar mortgage. Glenwood Real Estate was at the heart of the corruption scandal that has (so far) taken down state leaders, Democrat Sheldon Silver and Republican Dean Skelos. In essence, his company made tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions that helped put these politicians in power, then gave favors in order to secure favorable legislation, like tax abatements.

“The money, according to Mr. Dorego, Glenwood’s senior vice president and general counsel, was used to ensure the developer would continue to benefit from tax breaks, government financing and favorable rent laws. One program alone saved them as much as $100 million, he said,” William K. Rashbaum reported in the New York Times (“Albany Trials Exposed the Power of a Real Estate Firm,” Dec. 18, 2015).

“Glenwood also benefited from another state-administered program, using it to obtain more than $1 billion in low-interest, tax-exempt bond financing since 2000, to buy land and construct eight buildings it has put up since 2001, according to testimony at Mr. Silver’s trial.”

This is far from benign, but has a big ripple effect on working stiffs. It is a big reason why New York City, with the richest property in the world, doesn’t raise enough in property taxes to pay for its public schools, but depends New York State aid for 50 percent of its $25 billion operating budget. That $12.5 billion comes from income taxes from the rest of us, and is a major reason why Long Islanders pay such high property taxes (we don’t get 50% of our public school budgets paid for out of state aid). Who pays for tax abatements? Why working stiffs, of course.

That’s where philanthropy comes in. Charity does not just buy redemption, it also buys respect and resurrects a reputation. Take the Koch Brothers, for example. They are the singularly greatest example of money buying political power (and vow to spend $889 million in the 2016 campaign) in order to direct policy to their own interest and against average people (promoting fossil fuels over renewables, overturning environmental regulations, tax policy that favors the rich especially a repeal of the estate tax, gun rights, anti-reproductive rights, and the latest, criminal justice “reform” so that their companies can pollute and claim ignorance of the law to evade accountability).

They slap their name on everything, from the Smithsonian Institution’s Hall of Human Origins to PBS programming, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so we are to feel grateful for their patronage, like the Medicis. What we should feel is like peons, increasingly dependent on their largesse while public coffers are bankrupted.

It is especially dangerous when the contributions come with strings – like the Kochs funding economics departments at colleges in order to pick and choose the academics and the particular brand of economic philosophy. Or the Waltons (the six Waltons have more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of all Americans, 100 million people) funding charter schools in order to insert their own particular educational agenda (creationism as science, worker bees instead of independent thinkers).

It is in this same vein that we have Ebenezer Scrooge, who by the end of his spiritual awakening, “solves” the problems of horrendous poverty and inequality by throwing toys and money at it. It is like putting a band-aid on a patient with tuberculosis.

“The world may need a reimagined charter of philanthropy — a ‘Gospel of Wealth’ for the 21st century — that serves not just American philanthropists, but the vast array of new donors emerging around the world,” wrote Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, in a New York Times op-ed, “Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough,” (Dec. 16, 2015).

“This new gospel might begin where the previous one fell short: addressing the underlying causes that perpetuate human suffering. In other words, philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why.

“Feeding the hungry is among our society’s most fundamental obligations, but we should also question why our neighbors are without nutritious food to eat. Housing the homeless is an imperative, but we should also question why our housing markets are so distorted. As a nation, we need more investment in education, but not without questioning educational disparities based on race, class and geography….

“Whatever our intentions, the truth is that we can inadvertently widen inequality in the course of making money, even though we claim to support equality and justice when giving it away. And while our end-of-year giving might support worthy organizations, we must also ask if these financial donations contribute to larger social change.

“In other words, ‘giving back’ is necessary, but not sufficient. We should seek to bring about lasting, systemic change, even if that change might adversely affect us. We must bend each act of generosity toward justice.”

What would make a difference to break systemic poverty and inequality? Here are key ones:

Tax policy, which is supposedly “progressive” but in toto perpetuating extraordinary advantage to the wealthiest, taxing wages more than wealth. Raising the cap on income taxed to pay for Medicare and Social Security would alleviate the burden which is disproportionately placed on workers (if all income was subject to tax, you could reduce the percentage by a lot, which would mean a big boost in take-home income for everyone). Transaction tax on securities to de-incentivize short-term investing and make capital function more productively, as it is supposed to; making corporations pay their share, and taking away the incentive to offshore profits and jobs. (See, “For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 2015).

Promote a living wage: raise the minimum wage and cease the war on unions.

Reform immigration and provide a path to legal status for the undocumented residents (deal with the question of citizenship separately). This will eliminate a gigantic underclass which presently depresses the wages of everyone while suppressing the economic stimulus that would come from legal status.

Reform criminal justice that unfairly penalizes and imprisons poor people, disadvantaged people, people of color, and destroys families as well as that individual’s ability to get a decent job.

Continue the progress of Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) to make health care more affordable, accessible. Continue putting more resources into prevention and wellness, which will increase productivity and savings. Expand, don’t shut down, Planned Parenthood and access to contraception and reproductive rights. Treat gun violence as the public health crisis it is – not just in the dead, but in the lifetime of lost productivity due to injury, a cost estimated at $228 billion ($8.6 billion in direct costs, $221 billion in indirect costs, according to SmartGunLaws.org),

College affordability – eliminating a barrier to the best ticket to upward mobility, as well as the chains that result from student debt. Now amounting to $1.2 trillion, student debt is like indentured servitude, preventing graduates from buying a home, taking a loan to start a business or even pursuing careers of choice.

Improve access to home ownership – this not only gives a family an asset, a hedge against ever-rising rents, stability, roots, but a connection to community (and likely greater inclination to vote).

Make quality child care accessible and affordable.

Improve mass transportation and safe streets, so that people can get to work affordably, efficiently and without fear.

Give the underclass a voice and a force: Improve access to voting. Make voter registration more efficient and reliable and clear. Make Election Day a holiday, expand voting to include a weekend, overturn arbitrary limitations to absentee ballot. Have standards for polling places and voting machines so that some districts are not forced to wait hours to vote. Make sure the census counts everyone (not just registered voters). Eliminate gerrymandering. Because, just as money is becoming a greater factor in campaigns, politicians are increasingly beholden to maintaining the policies that only add to inequality and social injustice.

It’s scary how much “A Christmas Carol” and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” still resonate today.

Consider what George Bailey says to Mr. Potter, speaking about George’s father who founded the Building & Loan: “He didn’t save enough money to send Harry away to college, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why… here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You… you said… what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!” 

In essence, such systemic improvements to our society would directly benefit, rather than detract from the wealthiest. It is the “rising tides lift all boats” scenario – not just in requiring less of society’s resources to go to “save” the destitute, but in a healthier, more productive society altogether. There will still be rich, middle class and even poor, but the difference is that poverty would not be as severe, as prolonged, or a generational sentence. Society would restore upward mobility – the essence of the American Dream – and benefit from individuals being able to fulfill their full potential.

So let’s turn to New Year’s resolutions, when we make pledges to be better people. And let’s hope this resolution carries through the Presidential Campaign season which already seems to be a test of who can be the cruelest (which to many interpret as “powerful” and “leadership”).

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© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com,  email krubin723@aol.com. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

 

Hillary Clinton Pledges $2 Billion a Year Investment in Alzheimer’s Research to Make Cure Possible by 2025

Hillary Clinton with Chelsea Clinton and Melinda Gates. Senator Clinton is proposing to spend $2 billion a year on research into Alzheimer's which could potentially yield a cure by 2025. Two out of three Alzheimer's patients are women; 5 million are afflicted now and the number could swell to 15 million by 2050 © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hillary Clinton with Chelsea Clinton and Melinda Gates. Senator Clinton is proposing to spend $2 billion a year on research into Alzheimer’s which could potentially yield a cure by 2025. Two out of three Alzheimer’s patients are women; 5 million are afflicted now and the number could swell to 15 million by 2050 © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin/News & Photo Features

With five million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s today, and nearly 15 million expected to be affected by 2050, Hillary Clinton is pledging a new, groundbreaking $2 billion annual commitment to prevent, effectively treat and make a cure possible for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, if she is elected President.

Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and is the only cause in the Top 10 that we cannot currently prevent, cure, or even slow.

But scientists say that therapies that would prevent, cure or slow the progress are in reach, provided there is adequate, predictable funding for research. There is a “budget constraint, not a knowledge constraint” that is the main obstacle to success, scientists say.

While the incidence of major diseases is falling, the incidence of Alzheimer’s is rising. “Rates of incidence will only go up in future, as the population ages. But cure is at hand, just lacks funding. Impact of disease combined with the nearness of solution is what is causing Hillary Clinton to want to increase funding.”

The $2 billion a year that Secretary Clinton pledges to devote to research – almost quadrupling the $586 million that has been allocated to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – is a figure that comes out of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s disease which she co-chaired while in the US Senate, and from other professional panels. And the cost is miniscule compared to how much is spent now: Alzheimer’s is one of the costliest diseases in America – exceeding $200 billion in annual costs to the economy from the disease and related dementia. Recent reports suggest that by 2050 the total cost may exceed $1 trillion per year.

Women and communities of color are disproportionately affected by for this terrible disease. Two out of every three Alzheimer’s patients are women, older African Americans are twice as likely than older white individuals to be afflicted and older Latinos are 1.5 times as likely.

In developing this plan, Hillary Clinton has consulted with leading physician-scientists to understand what it would take to rapidly accelerate progress currently being made in the field.

“We owe it to the millions of families who stay up at night worrying about their loved ones afflicted by this terrible disease and facing the hard reality of the long goodbye to make research investments that will prevent, effectively treat and make a cure possible by 2025,” Clinton said. “The best scientific minds tell us we have a real chance to make groundbreaking progress on curing this disease and relieving the pain so many families feel every day. My plan will set us on that course.”

Clinton’s plan will:

  • Dedicate a historic, decade-long investment of $2 billion per year to Alzheimer’s research and related disorders – a fourfold increase over last year’s $586 million. Leading researchers including the research advisory council to the congressionally-authorized National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, have set out this goal of $2 billion a year to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s and make a cure possible by 2025.
  • Ensure a reliable stream of funding for fighting Alzheimer’s between now and 2025. This plan ensures predictability of funding between now and 2025, so that researchers can work consistently towards developing effective treatments and a cure. This gives researchers greater freedom to pursue the big, creative bets – including cross-collaboration with researchers in related fields – that can result in dramatic pay-offs.
  • Appoint a top-flight team to oversee this initiative and consult regularly with top researchers to ensure progress towards achieving the treatment target. At each stage, this plan will embrace a range of approaches to drive new knowledge into effective treatments.

Clinton’s new research investment in preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s will yield results not just in the fight against this disease, but for a range of neurodegenerative illnesses, from Parkinson’s disease to Lewy body dementia to frontotemporal dementia. The plan will also help medical professionals understand the intersection of Alzheimer’s with other conditions, including the high rate of individuals with Down syndrome who experience early-onset Alzheimer’s.

This commitment to Alzheimer’s research is only part of Clinton’s overall commitment to a substantial increase in investment at the National Institutes of Health to prevent, treat, and secure cures for the broad array of diseases that afflict Americans.

In addition to investing in research, Clinton announced today new parts of her agenda to support caregivers, like those who give critical care and support to the millions of families struggling with Alzheimer’s. Her plan will fight for Medicare to cover a comprehensive, care-planning session with a clinician following every new diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or related diseases, work with Congress to reauthorize the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program and direct the Social Security Administration to raise awareness of the Medicare-covered annual wellness visits and their associated preventive and screening benefits, including the cognitive screening – which is especially critical for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and other related dementia, by presenting this information alongside Social Security payments that beneficiaries will open and read.

“An Alzheimer’s Epidemic – and No Survivors”

The United States is facing an Alzheimer’s epidemic. And there are no survivors. and while the incidence of other diseases have gone down, the incidence of Alzheimer’s is rising.

But scientists are confident that therapies can be found – “we don’t have a knowledge problem. We have a budget problem.”

“The proposed boost in funding could not have come at a better time – last couple of years, revelations, discoveries in this field that have been unprecedented,” said Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Tanzi is Director of the Genetics and Aging Research unit at Massachusetts General, the Chair of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund Research Consortium and was named one of Time Magazines’ 2015 “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

“From a scientific side, it is reasonable, rational that if we can throw enough money into it, we have a chance to dramatically reduce incidence, stave off disease for folks at highest risk,” he said during a conference call hosted by the Hillary for America campaign.

This disease was described 1906 by Dr. Alzheimer after studying the pathology in the brain of a 56-year old patient and found a mutation in the brain, the same mutation as Alice  portrayed in the movie, “Still Alice”.

He said that research into early onset Alzheimer’s has shown common conditions, but most importantly, that people can have the conditions for Alzheimer’s for 10, 15, and 20 years before the first symptoms emerge, but by then, it is too late to do anything about it.

Early research was done on mice brains and yielded incorrect results. The breakthrough came when researchers “grew” Alzheimer’s in a “minibrain” in a dish – a gel-like environment – “and lo and behold, after the amyloid formed, it created the tangles that kill nerve cells. This was the first proof of concept, that if we do the right experiment and use human nerve cells, not mice, the amyloid causes the tangles.”

He added, “We also learned that the third pillar of pathology of Alzheimer’s is inflammation, which is probably the most significant target in a patient who already has the disease, because the inflammation kills many of the nerve cells. Through the Alzheimer’s Genome Project we now know genes control inflammation – so the first drug target is to quell the inflammation in the brain.”

He pointed to research on “resilient brains where we see a person who dies in their 80s or 90s with no cognitive issues, but when we look at their brain, we see the tangles, but they don’t have the inflammation. So if can quell  inflammation, we can better help patients.”

This could be a path to at least slowing the progress of the disease and the severity.

“If we can stave off the conversion of simply having plaques in the brain of a 50-60 years old – a picture like in a colonscopy so the brain would be assessed – for amyloid load, how much plaques – we would know if 10, 15, 20 years away the patient is at high risk of dementia (cognitive problems),” said Dr. Tanzi. “The goal would be that could be given a drug, together with lifestyle, that patient never gets to the point of dementia. You might have  the precursors, but not the three -plaques, tangles, inflammation. If we can stave it off for 5 years, the savings to Medicare, Medicaid treatment, nursing home savings would be in the many, many billions of dollars. Once we have one or two of these drugs to slow down these pathologies.”

“I’m optimistic. The main bottleneck in the field is funding. We discovered the genes in the 1980s, 1990s. We discovered two dozen Alzheimer’s genes, but there has been very little work, including on genes that control the inflammation because there is no budget – the research is considered high risk because so far there has been little success. If we had more money, many more shots on goal, many more genes being studied – because most of what we know comes from studying genes,” he said, he is confident of success.

“We have budget constraint, not knowledge constraint. Hopefully with $2 billion a year, we finally can do the work we can do to stop the disease by 2025.”

The $2 billion a year that Clinton would allocate, compared to the $586 million that came from NIH last year, amounts to $20 billion commitment over 10 years.

“Our experts would validate that the predictability of funding is almost as important as the money itself,” said Robert Egge, the Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement. Mr. Egge previously served as Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Study Group – a blue ribbon task force of national leaders co-chaired by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey. “$2 billion is the amount we know will make a difference and is what was recommended … to help get us over the finish line. We know that, but we haven’t seen the will in Congress to match the recommendation.”

The $2 billion annual commitment is part of larger plan that Senator Clinton is unveiling today at an event in Fairfield, Iowa. Other elements would bolster Medicare so a physician could follow every diagnosis of Alzheimers, working with Congress on a patient alert program (which has lapsed) and a  tax credit proposal that would allow caregivers to take 20% up to $6000 in care-related costs a year.

The focus on Alzheimer’s is the first piece of a larger commitment to increase the research investment that Hillary Clinton would  seek. In addition to investment in manufacturing and infrastructure, she is proposing a plan to dedicate funds for research to help innovate and lead the world in next-generation cures of diseases that are ravaging Americans. This commitment for Alzheimer’s is just the first piece of that.

The campaign also noted that plan announced today “build on Hillary Clinton’s long and strong record of advocating for patients and families who bear the burden of Alzheimer’s disease. In the U.S. Senate, she consistently pushed for greater funding for Alzheimer’s research, including federally-funded stem cell research, and she co-chaired the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s disease. She also introduced legislation to restore funding for the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Contact Center and for Alzheimer’s disease demonstration grants. And she forged links across the aisle on the issue, appearing with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to promote a new study group on Alzheimer’s research. This record reflects her long-time understanding that this disease not only represents a physical, psychological, and financial burden to millions of Americans, but an overwhelming economic and budgetary threat to our country that we must address.”

A full fact sheet on the new plan is available here.

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© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com,  email krubin723@aol.com. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

 

In contrast to GOP Opponents, Hillary Clinton Presents ‘360 Degree Strategy to Keep America Safe’

Hillary Clinton, Democratic candidate for president, detailing a "360 degree strategy to keep America safe," said that shallow slogans don’t add up to a strategy, and bluster and bigotry are not credentials for becoming commander-in-chief © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hillary Clinton, Democratic candidate for president, detailing a “360 degree strategy to keep America safe,” said that shallow slogans don’t add up to a strategy, and bluster and bigotry are not credentials for becoming commander-in-chief © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We’ve heard a whole lot from the Republican presidential hopefuls, one more absurd than another, of what they would do to “keep our nation safe” – devoting an entire 2 hour debate to the subject. Donald Trump would bring back waterboarding and torture, would kill family members of suspected terrorists. Ted Cruz would “carpet bomb” cities held by ISIS, even if there are tens of thousands of civilians being occupied by the terrorists. Chris Christie, staring into a camera to “intimidate” Vladimir Putin, says he would create a no-fly zone and shoot down any Russian plane that penetrates it (“That’s great if you want a candidate to start World War III,” was Rand Paul’s response.) Carly Fiorina would rehire generals who have resigned or retired.

And yet, Republicans in Congress refuse to do some of the most basic things to actually keep us safe. Senate Republicans have blocked the confirmation – and gone home for the holidays – of Adam Szubin as the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, the post in charge of tracking down and stopping the funds going to terrorist organizations. And Republicans in both houses have blocked legislation which would keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists on the no-fly list (if there is a problem with the list, they should fix it by giving the individual recourse to defend themselves, and that would be sufficient in fact to uncover actual terrorists).  But there is no common sense. It makes you wonder whether Republicans like an atmosphere of terror because they think that fear whips up votes in their favor.

The Republicans also have been stingy in funding the very services they are faulting for being inadequate – visa services, State Department security (Benghazi, Benghazi).

But in a speech on the same day as the Republican debate, December 15, Hillary Clinton,  Democratic candidate, gave a thoughtful speech outlining her previously stated overall anti-terrorism strategy, and a more intensively focused “360-degree strategy to keep America safe.” The speech received virtually no coverage, but she repeated the strategy in an op-ed published December 18.

Hillary for America released a new web video comparing Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks in Minnesota with Republican candidates, who were exposed as unfit and ill-prepared during this week’s Republican debate. In the remarks, Clinton said that shallow slogans don’t add up to a strategy, and bluster and bigotry are not credentials for becoming commander-in-chief. Republican candidates, on the other hand, have offered fear instead of facts. (Here are some other reviews of the Republicans’ performance this week HERE)

Here are highlights from Hillary Clinton’s speech in Minneapolis:

“I want to begin by saying, we cannot give in to fear.  We can’t let it stop us from doing what is right and necessary to make us safe, and doing it in way that is consistent with our values.

We cannot let fear push us into reckless actions that end up making us less safe.  Americans are going to have to act with both courage and clarity…..

 

The threat we face is daunting.  But America has overcome big challenges many times before.  Throughout our history, we’ve stared into the face of evil and refused to blink.  We beat Fascism, won the Cold War, brought Osama bin Laden to justice.

So no one should ever underestimate the determination of the American people.  And I am confident we will once again choose resolve over fear.  And we will defeat these new enemies, just as we’ve defeated those who’ve threatened us in the past.

Because it is not enough to contain ISIS, we must defeat ISIS, break its momentum and then its back.  And not just ISIS, but the broader radical jihadist movement that also includes al Qaeda and offshoots like al Shabaab in Somalia.

Now, waging and winning this fight will require serious leadership.  But unfortunately, our political debate has been anything but serious.

We can’t afford another major ground war in the Middle East.  That’s exactly what ISIS wants from us.  Shallow slogans don’t add up to a strategy.  Promising to carpet bomb until the desert glows doesn’t make you sound strong, it makes you sound like you’re in over your head.  Bluster and bigotry are not credentials for becoming Commander-in-Chief.

And it is hard to take seriously senators who talk tough but then hold up key national security nominations, including the top official at the Treasury Department responsible for disrupting terrorist financing.

Every day that’s wasted on partisan gridlock could put Americans in danger.  So, yes, we need a serious discussion.  And that’s why in a speech last month before the Council on Foreign Relations I laid out a three-part plan to defeat ISIS and the broader extremist movement.

One, defeat ISIS in the Middle East by smashing its stronghold, hitting its fighters, leaders, and infrastructure from the air, and intensifying support for local forces who can pursue them on the ground.

Second, defeat them around the world by dismantling the global network of terror that supplies radical jihadists with money, arms, propaganda, and fighters.

And third, defeat them here at home by foiling plots, disrupting radicalization, and hardening our defenses.

Now, these three lines of effort reinforce one another.  So we need to pursue all of them at once, using every pillar of American power.

It will require skillful diplomacy to continue Secretary Kerry’s efforts to encourage political reconciliation in Iraq and political transition in Syria, enabling more Sunni Arabs and Kurdish fighters to take on ISIS on both sides of the border, and to get our Arab and Turkish partners to actually step up and do their part.

It will require more U.S. and allied airpower, and a broader target set for strikes by planes and drones, with proper safeguards.

It will require Special Operations units to advise and train local forces and conduct key counterterrorism missions.

What it will not require is tens of thousands of American combat troops.  That is not the right action for us to take in this situation.

So there is a lot to do, and today, I want to focus on the third part of my plan, how we defend our country and prevent radicalization here at home.

We need a comprehensive strategy to counter each step in the process that can lead to an attack like the one in San Bernardino.

First, we have to shut down ISIS recruitment in the United States, especially online.

Second, stop would-be jihadists from getting training overseas, and stop foreign terrorists from coming here.

Third, discover and disrupt plots before they can be carried out.

Fourth, support law enforcement officers who risk their lives to prevent and respond to attacks.

And fifth, empower our Muslim-American communities, who are on the front-lines of the fight against radicalization.

This is a 360-degree strategy to keep America safe, and I want to walk through each of the elements, from recruitment to training to planning to execution.

First, shutting down recruitment.  We have to stop jihadists from radicalizing new recruits in-person and through social media, chat rooms, and what’s called the “Dark Web.”

To do that, we need stronger relationships between Washington, Silicon Valley, and all of our great tech companies and entrepreneurs.  American innovation is a powerful force, and we have to put it to work defeating ISIS.

That starts with understanding where and how recruitment happens.  Our security professionals need to more effectively track and analyze ISIS’s social media posts and map jihadist networks, and they need help from the tech community.

Companies should redouble their efforts to maintain and enforce their own service agreements and other necessary policies to police their networks, identifying extremist content and removing it.

Now, many are already doing this, and sharing those best practices more widely is important.

At the State Department, I started an interagency center to combat violent jihadist messages, to have a better way to communicate on behalf of our values, and to give young people drawn to those messages an alternative narrative.

We recruited specialists fluent in Arabic, Urdu, and Somali to wave online battles with extremists to counter their propaganda.

Now, those efforts have not kept pace with the threat, so we need to step up our game, in partnership with the private sector and credible moderate voices outside government.

But that’s just some of what we have to do.  Experts from the FBI, the intelligence community, Homeland Security, DOD, the State Department, and the technology industry should work together to develop a unified national strategy to defeat ISIS in cyberspace, using all of our capabilities to deny jihadists virtual territory, just as we work to deny them actual territory.

And at the same time, we also have to do more to address the challenge of radicalization, whatever form it takes.

It’s imperative that the Saudis, the Qataris, the Kuwaitis and others stop their citizens from supporting radical schools, madrassas and mosques around the world, once and for all, and that should be the top priority in all of our discussions with these countries.

Now, second, we have to prevent ISIS recruits from training abroad, and prevent foreign jihadists from coming here.

Most urgent is stemming the flow of fighters from Europe and America to Iraq and Syria, and then back home again.

The United States and our allies need to know the identities of every fighter who makes that trip, and then share information with each other in real time.

Right now, European nations don’t always alert each other when they turn away a suspected extremist at the border or when a passport is stolen.  They have to dramatically improve intelligence sharing and counterterrorism cooperation.  And we’re ready to help them do that.

We also need to take down the network of enablers who help jihadists finance and facilitate their travel, forge documents, and evade detection.  And the United States and our allies should commit to revoke the passports and visas of jihadists who have gone to join ISIS or other groups, and bring the full force of law against them.

As I’ve said before, the United States has to take a close look at our visa programs.  And I am glad the administration and Congress are stepping up scrutiny in the wake of San Bernardino.  And that should include scrutinizing applicants’ social media postings.  We also should dispatch more Homeland Security agents to high-risk countries to better investigate visa applicants.

For many years, America has waived visa requirements for travelers from countries with reliable security procedures, including key allies in Europe and Asia.  That makes sense.  But we also have to be smart.  Except for limited exceptions like diplomats and aid workers, anyone who has traveled in the past five years to a country facing serious problems with terrorism and foreign fighters should have to go through a full visa investigation, no matter where they’re from.

We also have to be vigilant in screening and vetting refugees from Syria, guided by the best judgment of our security and diplomatic professionals.  Rigorous vetting already takes place while these refugees are still overseas, and it’s a process that historically takes 18 to 24 months.

But Congress needs to provide enough resources to ensure we have sufficient personnel deployed to run the most thorough possible process.

And just as important, we cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and our humanitarian obligations.

Turning away orphans, applying a religious test that discriminates against Muslims, slamming the door on every single Syrian refugee; that is not who we are.  We are better than that.

It would be a cruel irony indeed if ISIS can force families from their homes and then also prevent them from finding new ones.  So after rigorous screening, we should welcome families fleeing Syria just as the Twin Cities and this state have welcomed previous generations of refugees, exiles, and immigrants.

Of course, the key is to prevent terrorists also from exploiting our compassion and endangering our security.  But we can do this.  And I think we must.

Third, we have to discover and disrupt jihadist plots before they can be carried out.  This is going to take better intelligence collection, analysis, and sharing.  I’ve proposed an “intelligence surge” against ISIS that includes more operations officers and linguists, enhancing our technical surveillance of overseas targets, intercepting terrorist communications, flying more reconnaissance missions to track terrorists’ movements, and developing even closer partnerships with other intelligence services.

President Obama recently signed the USA Freedom Act, which was passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress.  It protects civil liberties while maintaining capabilities that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to keep us safe.  However, the new law is now under attack from presidential candidates on the left and right.  Some would strip away crucial counterterrorism tools, even with appropriate judicial and congressional oversight.  Others seem eager to go back to discredited practices of the past.

I don’t think we can afford to let either view prevail.  Now, encryption of mobile devices and communications does present a particularly tough problem with important implications for security and civil liberties.  Law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals warn that impenetrable encryption may make it harder for them to investigate plots and prevent future attacks.  On the other hand, there are very legitimate worries about privacy, network security, and creating new vulnerabilities that bad actors can exploit.

I know there’s no magic fix to this dilemma that will satisfy all these concerns.  But we can’t just throw up our hands.  The tech community and the government have to stop seeing each other as adversaries and start working together to keep us safe from terrorists.   And even as we make sure law enforcement officials get the tools they need to prevent attacks, it’s essential that we also make sure jihadists don’t get the tools they need to carry out attacks.

It defies common sense that Republicans in Congress refuse to make it harder for potential terrorists to buy guns.  If you’re too dangerous to fly, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun, period.   And we should insist on comprehensive background checks and close loopholes that allow potential terrorists to buy weapons online or at gun shows.  And I think it’s time to restore the ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

I know this will drive some of our Republican friends a little crazy.  You’ll probably hear it tonight.  They will say that guns are a totally separate issue, nothing to do with terrorism.  Well, I have news for them, terrorists use guns to kill Americans.  And I think we should make it a lot harder for them from to do that ever again.

And there’s a question, a question they should be asked:  Why don’t the Republican candidates want to do that?   You see, I have this old fashioned idea that we elect a President in part, in large part, to keep us safe, from terrorists, from gun violence, from whatever threatens our families and communities.  And I’m not going to let the gun lobby or anyone else tell me that’s not the right path for us to go down.

Now, the fourth element in my strategy is supporting law enforcement officers who risk their lives to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.

In San Bernardino, city, county, state, and federal authorities acted with speed and courage to prevent even more loss of life.  Like Detective Jorge Lozano, a 15-year police veteran, who assured terrified civilians, “I’ll take a bullet before you do.”  There is no limit to the gratitude we owe to law enforcement professionals like that Detective Lozano who run toward danger to try to save lives.  And not just in the immediate wake of an attack.  Our police, firefighters, and emergency responders will keep putting their lives on the line long after the cameras move on.

It’s disgraceful that Congress has thus far failed to keep faith with first responders suffering from the lasting health effects of 9/11.  Many of them were men and women I was so proud to represent as a Senator from New York.  The Zadroga 9/11 Health Act never should have been allowed to lapse.  It looks like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may have finally dropped his opposition.  And I hope the American people will hold him to that.  And we will continue to honor the service and sacrifice of those who responded to the worst terrorist attack in our history.

We have to make sure that local law enforcement has the resources and training they need to keep us safe.  And they should be more closely synced up with national counterterrorism experts, including with better use of “fusion centers” that serve as clearinghouses for intelligence and coordination.

And we need to strengthen our defenses and our resilience wherever we’re vulnerable, whether it’s “soft targets” like shopping malls or higher-profile targets like airports, railways, or power plants.  We have to build on the progress of the Obama Administration in locking down loose nuclear materials, and other WMD, so they never fall into the hands of terrorists who seek them actively around the world.

So we should be providing the Department of Homeland Security with the resources it needs to stay one step ahead, not trying to privatize key functions, like TSA, as some Republicans have proposed.

And it’s important for us to recognize that when we talk about law enforcement, we have made progress in being sure that our federal authorities share information with our state and local authorities, but that was an issue I tackled after 9/11, and we have to stay really vigilant so that information is in the hands where it needs to be.

Finally, the fifth element in the strategy is empowering Muslim-American communities who are on the front-lines of the fight against radicalization.  There are millions of peace-loving Muslims living, working, raising families, and paying taxes in our country.  These Americans may be our first, last, and best defense against home grown radicalization and terrorism.  They are the most likely to recognize the insidious effects of radicalization before it’s too late, intervene to help set a young person straight.  They are the best positioned to block anything going forward.

That’s why law enforcement has worked so hard since 9/11 to build up trust and strong relationships within Muslim-American communities.  Here in the Twin Cities, you have an innovative partnership that brings together parents, teachers, imams, and others in the Somali-American community with law enforcement, non-profits, local businesses, mental health professionals and others to intervene with young people who are at risk.

It’s called the Building Community Resilience Pilot Program, and it deserves increased support.  It has not gotten the financial resources that it needs to do everything the people involved in it know they can do.  And we’ve got to do a better job of supporting it.

Now I know that like many places across the country, there’s more work to do to increase trust between communities and law enforcement.  Just last month, I know here a young African American man was fatally shot by a police officer.  And I understand an investigation is underway.  Whatever the outcome, tragedies like this raise hard questions about racial justice in America and put at risk efforts to build the community relationships that help keep us safe from crime and from terrorism.

When people see that respect and trust are two-way streets, they’re more likely to work hand-in-hand with law enforcement.  One of the mothers of the 10 men recently charged with conspiring with terrorists said, “We have to stop the denial,” she told other parents that.  “We have to talk to our kids and work with the FBI.”  That’s a message we need to hear from leaders within Muslim-American communities across our country.

But we also want to highlight the successes in Muslim American communities, and there are so many of them.  I just met with the first Somali-American council member of the City Council here.  And he was proudly telling me how much change Somali immigrants, now Muslim-Americans have made in parts of the city and neighborhoods that had been pretty much hollowed out.  Let’s look at the successes.

If we’re going to full integrate everyone into America, then we need to be seeing all their contributions, too.  And that is one of the many reasons why we must all stand up against offensive, inflammatory, hateful, anti-Muslim rhetoric.  You know, not only do these comments cut against everything we stand for as Americans, they are also dangerous.

As the Director of the FBI told Congress recently, anything that erodes trust with Muslim-Americans makes the job of law enforcement more difficult.  We need every community invested in this fight, not alienated and sitting on the sidelines.

One of the community leaders I met with told me that a lot of the children in the community are now afraid to go to school.  They’re not only afraid of being perceived as a threat, they are afraid of being threatened because of who they are.  This is such a open-hearted and generous community, I hope there will be even more efforts perhaps under the aegis of the university and certainly Governor Dayton and others, to bring people together to reassure members of the community, particularly children and teenagers that they are welcome, invited and valued here in this city and state.

Now Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States has rightly sparked outrage across our country and around the world.  Even some of the other Republican candidates are saying he’s gone too far.  But the truth is, many of those same candidates have also said disgraceful things about Muslims.  And this kind of divisive rhetoric actually plays into the hands of terrorists.  It alienates partners and undermines moderates we need around the world in the fight against ISIS.

You know, you hear a lot of talk from some of the other candidates about coalitions.  Everyone seems to want one.  But there’s not nearly as much talk about what it actually takes to build a coalition and make it work.  I know how hard this is because I’ve done it.  And I can tell you, insulting potential allies doesn’t make it any easier.

And demonizing Muslims also feeds a narrative that jihadists use to recruit new followers around the world, that the United States is at war with Islam.  As both the Pentagon and the FBI have said in the past week, we cannot in any way lend credence to that twisted idea.  This is not a clash of civilizations.  It’s a clash between civilization and barbarism and that’s how it must be seen and fought.

Some will tell you that our open society is a vulnerability in the struggle against terrorism.  I disagree.  I believe our tolerance and diversity are at the core of our strength.  At a Naturalization ceremony for new citizens today in Washington, President Obama noted the tension throughout our history between welcoming or rejecting the stranger.  It is, he said, about the meaning of America, what kind of country do we want to be?  And it’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed as old as our founding, E Pluribus Unum.  Out of many we are one.

President Obama is right, and it matters.  It’s no coincidence that American Muslims have long been better integrated and less susceptible to radicalization than Muslims in less welcoming countries.  We can’t give in to demagogues who play on our basest instincts.  We must instead rely on the principles written into our American DNA.  Freedom.  Equality.  Opportunity.

America is strongest when all our people believe they have a stake in our country and our future, no matter where they’re from, what they look like, how they worship, or who they love.  Our country was founded by people fleeing religious persecution.  As George Washington put it, the United States gives “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”  So to all our Muslim-American brothers and sisters, this is your country too.  And I am proud to be your fellow American.

And I want to remind us, particularly our Republican friends, that George W. Bush was right.  Six days after 9/11 he went to a Muslim community center and here’s what he said, those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of human kind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior….

“We are Americans.”  We are the greatest nation on earth not in spite of the challenges we’ve faced, but because of them.  Americans will not buckle or break.  We will not turn on each other or turn on our principles.  We will pursue our enemies with unyielding power and purpose.  We will crush their would-be caliphate and counter radical jihadism wherever it takes root.  We’re in it for the long haul.  And we’ll stand taller and stronger than they can possibly imagine.

That’s what we do here.  It’s who we are.  That’s how we’ll win, by looking at one another with respect, with concern, with commitment.  That’s the America that I know makes us all so proud to be a part of.”