Governor Cuomo Rallies in Long Island for $15 Minimum Wage, Parental Leave

Governor Andrew Cuomo comes to Westbury, Long Island, to rally for raising the minimum wage to $15 and for paid parental leave© 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Governor Andrew Cuomo comes to Westbury, Long Island, to rally for raising the minimum wage to $15 and for paid parental leave© 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

 

by Karen Rubin, news-photos-features.com

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been crisscrossing the state, rallying support to make New York the first state in the nation to enact a  $15 minimum wage for all workers. He is also pushing a  plan enabling 12 weeks of parental leave – the most of any state. These are  cornerstones of his “Fight for Economic Justice” campaign which he dedicated to his father, the former Governor Mario Cuomo.

On a single day, following rallies in Manhattan and the Bronx, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo traveled by bus to Westbury, Long Island’s “Yes We Can” community center on his “Drive for $15” tour to make his pitch.

The Governor has already secured a phased in hike of the minimum wage to $15 for fast food workers, and in January, announced that the State University of New York will raise the minimum wage for more than 28,000 employees, mirroring the phased-in schedule for fast food workers secured last year, as well as 10,000 State Workers announced in October.

“If you work full time, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty – which is why it’s time for New York to lead the way and pass a $15 minimum wage,” said Governor Cuomo, who secured an increase in the state’s minimum wage for all workers to $9 in 2013. “Raising the minimum wage will provide new opportunity and restore economic justice to millions of New Yorkers. Our proposal will lift families out of poverty and create a stronger economy for all, and I urge lawmakers to help us fight for fair pay for working families this year.”

The “Yes We Can” community center in Westbury was crammed with union workers – particularly health care workers who now average $10 an hour.

The renewed push comes on the heels of Governor Cuomo’s recently released minimum wage report which found that raising the minimum wage to $15 would benefit more than 2.3 million workers and boost direct spending power by more than $15.7 billion in New York State. The Governor is urging the State Legislature to pass his phased-in minimum wage proposal this session.

“This is about fundamental fairness,” Governor Cuomo said. “That’s what this is about – being fair to people, being decent to people, understanding that we are all one community and that we are connected to each other, and as goes one goes all. That’s what this is about: fairness. Fairness. Something happened in this country. Something happened in the economy. It changed on us. It changed about thirty years ago and it’s been getting worse. The economy is running. We’ve worked very hard to create jobs. I’m very proud to be able to say we’ve created more jobs in the state of New York than have ever existed in the history of the state of New York and that’s a beautiful thing.

“That is a beautiful thing, but those jobs are different than the economy used to be. If you have the right skillset, or the right access, and you get one of the jobs up at the top end of the spectrum… millionaires, billionaires are making more than ever before. The top earners are making more money at a faster rate. But that’s a very small slice of the jobs and for the middle class and the working family jobs, the pay is actually going down and the respect and the dignity that goes with those jobs is being devalued by this country in this economy. And that is wrong.”

He said this has been a pattern that has been going on for decades, and not just in New York but around the country: it used to be that workers’ incomes would rise with productivity – which is fair. But that ended in the mid-1970s: since 1973, while productivity has grown by 90 percent, workers’ pay only went up 9%.

“The work – the concept of work – is being disrespected,” he said, invoking the words of a health care worker who depends on government assistance, despite putting in a full week’s work, caring for people who cannot care for themselves.”

The Federal minimum wage is $7. New York raised the minimum wage to $9. but at $9, “the numbers don’t work. $9 is about $18,000 a year. You cannot support a family in the state of New York on $18,000 a year. You cannot do it. You certainly can’t do it and have any decent lifestyle. You can’t do it and pay rent and pay food and pay for clothes. It just doesn’t work.”

People can’t support a family on minimum wage and they certainly cannot get ahead as earlier generations could aspire. That was the American Dream.

“People don’t have that same hope anymore. People don’t believe that anymore. They’re worried about their own retirement. They’re worried about children. They’re worried about their children’s education. If you take that aspiration away from people, then America’s not America and New York’s isn’t New York.”

The solution, he said, is to “restore the dignity, the pride and the aspiration and we pay people a decent wage to provide a decent lifestyle and that is $15 an hour.”

He said that opposition – from big business, big corporations – is already lining up, claiming that $15 is too high.

But, if you take the minimum wage in 1970, and increase it by the rate of inflation, it comes to $15 – so at $15, workers are having the same purchasing power as in 1970.

He said the opposition then claims that setting a minimum wage “is government meddling in the private market place. Government shouldn’t interfere with the private market place”. But, he countered, government is already in the “private market place” because $18,000 – the annual wage at $9 – is still below the poverty line, so government is forced to step in and subsidize McDonalds and Burger King workers with welfare and food stamps. The subsidy winds up averaging $7,000 per employee, totaling $700 million a year for New York taxpayers.

“So you say to our conservative friends when they say, “Well you shouldn’t be in the market place” you say, “Yea we want to get out of the market place, let the corporations pay a decent wage so we don’t have to put the food on the table of people who are getting shafted by the system.”

A report by the State Department of Labor (available here) details the impact of a $15 minimum wage for New York workers and their families. In total, 2.3 million New Yorkers will earn higher wages and as a result, increase spending power by more than $15.7 billion across New York State. The Governor is urging the State Legislature to pass his phased-in minimum wage proposal this session. Key findings:

  • Millions of New Yorkers will earn higher pay. 2.3 million New Yorkers – about a quarter of the total workforce – will experience higher pay, increasing spending power by more than $15.7 billion.1
  • The vast majority of minimum wage earners are adults. Half of minimum wage earners in New York State are 35 or older and outside of New York City, more than 70 percent are over the age of 25. More than 40 percent are married, parents or both and many provide the main source of their family’s income.2
  • The current minimum wage is not a decent living wage.Today, a full time job at New York’s minimum wage pays only $18,720 per year. For a single mother with two children, that’s below the official poverty line.
  • The Governor’s proposal corrects 40 years of economic injustice. A $15 minimum wage by 2021 is about where New York’s minimum wage in 1970 would be, if adjusted for inflation and cost of living differences.3
  • It’s important for New York’s economic growth. New York increased its minimum wage eight times from 1991 through 2015 and six of those times, the data shows an employment uptick following an increase in the state’s minimum wage.4

On Long Island, 382,236 workers would earn higher wages by raising the minimum wage to $15, increasing spending power by $2.5 billion. For a statewide breakdown, view page four of the minimum wage report.

“The economic benefits of increasing the minimum wage outweigh the costs. But to provide businesses with the opportunity to plan, and in order to be sensitive to the relative abilities of different regional economies to absorb the change, the proposal phases-in the increase in New York’s minimum wage in New York City (in four steps by the end of 2018) and more gradually in the rest of the state (over seven steps by July 2021).

Proposes 12 Week Paid Family Leave

The Governor is also proposing that New York enact a 12 week paid family leave policy – which would be the longest benefits period in the nation for such a policy – to help working families care for a new child or seriously ill relative. The program would be funded by employees – employers would pay nothing – who would pay about 70 cents a week into a fund.

“Along with the disrespect that goes to the worker in this current economy – there is a lack of power that the employee has,” he said. “The employee is treated more like a commodity.”

“The worker doesn’t have that same power and relationship with the employer that they used to have. So if something happens and you need to do something in your life – because there is more than work – there’s something called life. You have to balance the two, you shouldn’t have to choose between going broke, losing your job, or doing the right thing at home. That should not be a choice.”

The United States is one of only three nations on the globe that does not have paid family leave and the other two are Suriname and Papua New Guinea.

Cuomo’s proposal though is not for employers to pay – the cost to employers would be zero – but to have employees pay into a fund about 70 cents a week, so they could get up to $700 a week in benefits for up to 12 weeks.

“The opposition is going to say, ‘The cost is very expensive for business.’ You know what it costs business? Zero. Nada, scatta, niente, nulo, whatever language you want. It costs them nothing. It is all paid by the employees. They say they may need to hire someone in the meantime if the person takes off. Fine, but they’re not paying first person, so they wind up neutral. It has no effect economically on businesses and it makes a world of difference in respect and livability for an employee. That we also have to pass this year. If we do $15 minimum wage, and we do paid family leave, we will have done something. We will have changed people’s lives and that is what this is all about.”

“This is fairness for all. This is opportunity for all. This is mobility for all. This is decency for all. This is New York State, we’re not going to treat each other with nothing less than total respect. We don’t care if the big corporations are against us, we have the people with us. We are going to pass it in the state of New York, we’re going to pass it this year, and we’re going to say to the rest of the nation, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way, you can have an economy that works for everyone where everyone is stronger and the greatest feast has the most people at the table.’ That is what we believe in New York and we are going to make it real here and it will be a wave that goes from one end of this country to the other.”

“There are times in life when family comes first – like when a child is born, a loved one is sick, or a parent is dying – and I believe everyone deserves the right to be there in those times,” Governor Cuomo told the Long Island rally. “The lack of paid family leave is a rampant economic injustice that runs against the grain of the American promise. It’s unacceptable that people are still forced to choose between caring for their families and keeping their jobs, and we’re going to change that in New York. We’re going to pass 12 weeks of paid family leave and stand up for what’s really important in life – and I urge all New Yorkers to join us in this fight.”

Governor Cuomo’s proposal would ensure 12 weeks of job-protected, employee-funded leave to be used for caring for a new child or a sick relative. It would also guarantee employees the right to return to their current job upon their return from leave and bring discrimination actions to the extent that their rights are violated.

The Need for Paid Family Leave

Paid family leave is currently offered by every developed nation on the planet – except for the United States. Within the U.S., only California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have such a program, and none offer benefits for longer than six weeks. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor has reported that a mere 12 percent of private sector workers are offered paid family leave by their employers.

While the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave, because of various exemptions, 40 percent of American workers are left out. Even for those who are covered by the FMLA, taking time off to care for a new child or sick relative often means workers are forced to forego wages, use up savings or vacation time, or even risk losing their jobs in order to care for new children or sick relatives.

“This injustice is particularly acute for low-income workers. In New York, nearly 50 percent of low-income working mothers have $500 or less in savings, and more than 33 percent have no savings. Without paid family leave, low-income workers are also more likely to utilize public assistance after the birth of a child or serious illness in the family.”

In addition to parents with new children, paid family leave is a crucial benefit to families caring for an ailing loved one – especially elderly relatives. More than 90 percent of elderly people receiving care in the community rely on the support and care of their loved ones, either independently or along with paid help – and two-thirds of older Americans receive care solely from their family members. Seventy-eight percent of people who care for elderly relatives are employed, and 62 percent report working full time. Furthermore, with growing life expectancies nationally and an aging population, the need for elder care is expected to increase in the coming years.

Proven Benefits and Support

Governor Cuomo’s proposal for 12 weeks of paid family leave offers a number of broad and important benefits to working families, businesses, and the state’s economy. This includes economic security and better health outcomes for families, greater workforce longevity and productivity for businesses, and a stronger economy for all.

Paid family leave supports families: Steady income and employment are crucial for families caring for new children or sick loved ones – and especially so for low-income families. Paid family leave offers crucial economic security that enables working families to respond to unique medical needs and costs, keep up with general living expenses and avoid poverty or the need for public assistance. Additionally, paid family leave is proven to help women remain in the workforce after having a child and increase their wages over time. Paid family leave is also a factor in boosting positive health outcomes for young families – with benefits such as increased birth weight, decreased frequencies of premature birth, and a substantial decrease in infant mortality. In cases of ill relatives, paid family leave also helps patients stick to prescribed treatment plans and check-ups, avoid complications, and ultimately return to good health.

Paid family leave supports businesses: Providing paid family leave also has numerous benefits for employers. Research from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that paid family leave helps businesses retain workers and avoid turnover – which ultimately helps reduce recruitment and training costs. Having access to paid family leave can also boost productivity, engagement, and loyalty among a business’ employees.

Paid family leave supports the economy: Increasing access to paid family leave will result in a stronger economy and workforce. When working parents or caregivers are able to remain in the workforce while tending to children or sick loved ones, they are also more likely to continue progressing in their careers and increasing their wages over time. This in turn yields greater support for their families, greater economy activity in their communities, and a more vibrant workforce overall. Additionally, paid family leave helps address the gaps in opportunity faced by low-income, minority and less educated workers.

Paid family leave has widespread public support: In a recent poll conducted by the Roosevelt Institute, the vast majority – 83 percent – of respondents supported paid family leave. That support crossed party lines, with 96 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of Independents and 67 percent of Republicans voicing support. Additionally, in a business survey after California’s paid family leave policy had been in effect for five years, 91 percent of employers reported the effect of the policy was either not noticeable or positive.

The Governor has launched a new website,  www.ny.gov/paidfamilyleave, for New Yorkers to learn more about the need for paid family leave and the benefits of his proposal.

_____________

© 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 editor@news-photos-features.com. Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Obama Warns Senate Republicans’ that Politicization of SCOTUS Confirmation Will Undermine Credibility of Court

President Obama has a right and a duty to nominate a replacement to Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court and the Senate has a duty to hold hearings and take a vote. © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama has a right and a duty to nominate a replacement to Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court and the Senate has a duty to hold hearings and take a vote.
© 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

With the care and consideration of a Constitutional lawyer, President Obama laid out his argument for his authority and responsibility to nominate a Justice to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Antonin Scalia, and the Senate’s obligation and responsibility to “advise” and hold a vote. 

He chastised – and warned – about the politicization of the process which ultimately undermines “the credibility” and the authority of the Supreme Court, itself, just as the ability of government to function has been undermined by extreme partisanship and polarization: 

“If, in fact, the Republicans in the Senate take a posture that defies the Constitution, defies logic, is not supported by tradition simply because of politics, then invariably what you’re going to see is a further deterioration in the ability of any President to make any judicial appointments,” President Obama said. “And appointments to the Supreme Court as well as the federal bench suddenly become a complete extension of our polarized politics…the credibility of the Court itself begins to diminish because it’s viewed simply as an extension of our politics.” 

Here’s the full transcript of Obama’s comments on the Supreme Court process. He spoke at length – about 10 minutes – in answer to a question at a press conference: 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, the Constitution says that I nominate candidates for the Supreme Court when there’s a vacancy, and that the Senate exercises its constitutional role in advise and consent.  I’m going to do my job.  We are going to go through a process, as we have done in two previous Supreme Court vacancies, to identify an outstanding candidate that has impeccable legal credentials and would bring the kind of ability and compassion and objectivity and legal reasoning to the Court that the Highest Court in the Land demands.

One side made the nomination, and then Leader McConnell and all the members of the Senate are going to make a decision about how do they fulfill their constitutional responsibilities.  I recognize the politics are hard for them, because the easier thing to do is to give in to the most extreme voices within their party and stand pat and do nothing.  But that’s not our job.  Our job is to fulfill our constitutional duties.

And so my hope and expectation is that once there is an actual nominee and once this is no longer an abstraction, that those on the Judiciary Committee recognize that their job is to give this person a hearing, to show the courtesy of meeting with them.  They are then free to vote whatever their conscience dictates as to whether this person is qualified or not.  In the meantime, the American people are going to have the ability to gauge whether the person I’ve nominated is well within the mainstream, is a good jurist, is somebody who’s worthy to sit on the Supreme Court.

And I think it will be very difficult for Mr. McConnell to explain how, if the public concludes that this person is very well qualified, that the Senate should stand in the way simply for political reasons.  We’ll see what happens.  And I think the situation may evolve over time.  I don’t expect Mitch McConnell to say that is the case today.  I don’t expect any member of the Republican caucus to stick their head out at the moment and say that.  But let’s see how the public responds to the nominee that we put forward.

The one thing I think is important to dispel is any notion that somehow this is some well-established tradition, or some constitutional principle that a President in his last year of office cannot fill the Supreme Court vacancy.  It’s not in the text of the Constitution.  Ironically, these are Republicans who say they believe in reading the text of the Constitution and focusing on the intent of the Constitution.  But none of the Founding Fathers thought that when it comes to the President carrying out his duties, he should do it for three years and then on the last year stop doing it.

There’s an argument that, well, the President shouldn’t do this because he is a lame duck.  Well, the truth of the matter is, is that traditionally the term “lame duck” refers to the two or three months after an election has taken place in which a new President is about to be sworn in.  I’ve got a year to go.  I don’t think they would approve of me abdicating on my duties as Commander-in-Chief and to stop doing all the other work that I got to do.  Well, this is part of my job. 

There’s been arguments that for 80 years this has been the tradition.  Well, that’s not the case.  Justice Kennedy was approved after being nominated by Ronald Reagan in Ronald Reagan’s last year of office.  They say, well, that’s different because he had been nominated in 1987, even if he was confirmed — or ’85 — even if he was confirmed in ’86.  Well, the notion that there is some two-month period in which suddenly it all flips and everything shuts down, that’s not a credible argument.

What other arguments are they making?  They suggest that, well, there had been a couple of times where Democrats said it would be wise for a President not to nominate someone.  First of all, we know senators say stuff all the time.  Second of all, these were comments that were made where there was no actual nomination at stake.  So it has no application to the actual situation that we have right now.

I’m trying to think of any other reeds that they’re grasping here as to why they would not carry out their duties.  And I can’t really think of one.

I recognize that this is an important issue for their constituencies, and it’s particularly sensitive because this was Justice Scalia’s seat that is now vacant and that a whole host of decisions on the Supreme Court could turn on this ninth justice and their vote.

But that’s how our democracy is supposed to work.  And what I do — the last point I’ll make — we have already seen a breakdown of the judicial appointment process that gets worse and worse each and every year, each and every Congress.  It becomes harder and harder to get any candidates for the judiciary confirmed.  We saw Senator Reid have to employ the so-called “nuclear option” because there was such a logjam in terms of getting judicial appointments through.

If, in fact, the Republicans in the Senate take a posture that defies the Constitution, defies logic, is not supported by tradition simply because of politics, then invariably what you’re going to see is a further deterioration in the ability of any President to make any judicial appointments.  And appointments to the Supreme Court as well as the federal bench suddenly become a complete extension of our polarized politics.

And at that point, not only are you going to see more and more vacancies and the court systems break down, but the credibility of the Court itself begins to diminish because it’s viewed simply as an extension of our politics — this is a Republican judge or this is a Democratic judge, as opposed to, this is a Supreme Court justice who is supposed to be standing above the day-to-day politics that take place.

So I understand the posture that they’re taking right now.  I get the politics of it.  I’m sure they’re under enormous pressure from their base and their constituencies around this issue.  I’ve talked to many of them, and I’ve told them I’m sympathetic.  And, by the way, there’s not a lot of vigor when they defend the position that they’re taking, that they wouldn’t even meet, for example, with a Supreme Court nominee.  They’re pretty sheepish about it when they make those comments.

So we’ll see how this plays itself out.  But I’m going to do my job.  I’m going to nominate somebody and let the American people decide as to whether that person is qualified.  And if they are qualified, let the American people decide whether there’s enough time for the U.S. Senate to hold hearings and have a vote.  It’s not as if, from what I see, the Senate calendar is so full that we don’t have time to get this done.

Obama Administration Details New Cybersecurity National Action Plan

Indian Point Nuclear Plant: cyber attacks on utilities, power plants, nuclear facilities can be more lethal and disrupting than an invading army. The White House has just issued a fact sheet detailing its Cybersecurity National Action Plan © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: cyber attacks on utilities, power plants, nuclear facilities can be more lethal and disrupting than an invading army. The White House has just issued a fact sheet detailing its Cybersecurity National Action Plan © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

FACT SHEET: Cybersecurity National Action Plan

Taking bold actions to protect Americans in today’s digital world

The next War to End All Wars will likely be fought in cyberspace, rather than by invading armies. Cybersecurity is critical line of defense, but also raises issues of privacy – from government as well as criminals. The Obama Administration has just issued a Cybersecurity National Action Plan which, among other things, creates a Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity as well as a permanent Federal Privacy Council.  It includes expanding upon the President’s 2014 BuySecure Initiative to strengthen the security of consumer data. Here is a fact sheet from the White House detailing the Cybersecurity National Action Plan:

From the beginning of his Administration, the President has made it clear that cybersecurity is one of the most important challenges we face as a Nation, and for more than seven years he has acted comprehensively to confront that challenge.  Working together with Congress, we took another step forward in this effort in December with the passage of the Cybersecurity Act of 2015, which provides important tools necessary to strengthen the Nation’s cybersecurity, particularly by making it easier for private companies to share cyber threat information with each other and the Government.

But the President believes that more must be done – so that citizens have the tools they need to protect themselves, companies can defend their operations and information, and the Government does its part to protect the American people and the information they entrust to us.  That is why, today, the President is directing his Administration to implement a Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP) that 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.

The Challenge

From buying products to running businesses to finding directions to communicating with the people we love, an online world has fundamentally reshaped our daily lives.  But just as the continually evolving digital age presents boundless opportunities for our economy, our businesses, and our people, it also presents a new generation of threats that we must adapt to meet.  Criminals, terrorists, and countries who wish to do us harm have all realized that attacking us online is often easier than attacking us in person.  As more and more sensitive data is stored online, the consequences of those attacks grow more significant each year.  Identity theft is now the fastest growing crime in America.  Our innovators and entrepreneurs have reinforced our global leadership and grown our economy, but with each new story of a high-profile company hacked or a neighbor defrauded, more Americans are left to wonder whether technology’s benefits could risk being outpaced by its costs.

The President believes that meeting these new threats is necessary and within our grasp.  But it requires a bold reassessment of the way we approach security in the digital age.  If we’re going to be connected, we need to be protected.  We need to join together—Government, businesses, and individuals—to sustain the spirit that has always made America great.  

Our Approach

That is why, today, the Administration is announcing a series of near-term actions to enhance cybersecurity capabilities within the Federal Government and across the country.  But given the complexity and seriousness of the issue, the President is also asking some of our Nation’s top strategic, business, and technical thinkers from outside of government to study and report on what more we can do 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.  Bold action is required to secure our digital society and keep America competitive in the global digital economy.

The President’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP) is the capstone of more than seven years of determined effort by this Administration, building upon lessons learned from cybersecurity trends, threats, and intrusions.  This plan directs the Federal Government to take new action now and fosters the conditions required for long-term improvements in our approach to cybersecurity across the Federal Government, the private sector, and our personal lives.  Highlights of the CNAP include actions to:

  • Establish the “Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity.” This Commission will be comprised of top strategic, business, and technical thinkers from outside of Government – including members to be designated by the bi-partisan Congressional leadership.  The Commission will make recommendations on actions that can be taken over the next decade to strengthen cybersecurity in both the public and private sectors while protecting privacy; maintaining public safety and economic and national security; fostering discovery and development of new technical solutions; and bolstering partnerships between Federal, State, and local government and the private sector in the development, promotion and use of cybersecurity technologies, policies, and best practices.
  • Modernize Government IT and transform how the Government manages cybersecurity through the proposal of a $3.1 billion Information Technology Modernization Fund, which will enable the retirement, replacement, and modernization of legacy IT that is difficult to secure and expensive to maintain, as well as the formation of a new position – the Federal Chief Information Security Officer – to drive these changes across the Government.
  • Empower Americans to secure their online accounts by moving beyond just passwords and adding an extra layer of security.  By judiciously combining a strong password with additional factors, such as a fingerprint or a single use code delivered in a text message, Americans can make their accounts even more secure.  This focus on multi-factor authentication will be central to a newNational Cybersecurity Awareness Campaign launched by theNational Cyber Security Alliance designed to arm consumers with simple and actionable information to protect themselves in an increasingly digital world.  The National Cyber Security Alliance will partner with leading technology firms like Google, Facebook, DropBox, and Microsoft to make it easier for millions of users to secure their online accounts, and financial services companies such as MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, and Venmo thatare making transactions more secure.  In addition, the Federal Government will take steps to safeguard personal data in online transactions between citizens and the government, including through a new action plan to drive the Federal Government’s adoption and use of effective identity proofing and strong multi-factor authentication methods and a systematic review of where the Federal Government can reduce reliance on Social Security Numbers as an identifier of citizens.
  • Invest over $19 billion for cybersecurity as part of the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Budget.  This represents a more than 35 percent increase from FY 2016 in overall Federal resources for cybersecurity, a necessary investment to secure our Nation in the future.

Through these actions, additional new steps outlined below, and other policy efforts spread across the Federal Government, the Administration has charted a course to enhance our long-term security and reinforce American leadership in developing the technologies that power the digital world.  

Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity

For over four decades, computer technology and the Internet have provided a strategic advantage to the United States, its citizens, and its allies.  But if fundamental cybersecurity and identity issues are not addressed, America’s reliance on digital infrastructure risks becoming a source of strategic liability.  To address these issues, we must diagnose and address the causes of cyber-vulnerabilities, and not just treat the symptoms.  Meeting this challenge will require a long-term, national commitment.

To conduct this review, the President is establishing the Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, comprised of top strategic, business, and technical thinkers from outside of Government – including members to be designated by the bi-partisan Congressional leadership.  The Commission is tasked with making detailed recommendations on actions that can be taken over the next decade to enhance cybersecurity awareness and protections throughout the private sector and at all levels of Government, to protect privacy, to maintain public safety and economic and national security, and to empower Americans to take better control of their digital security.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology will provide the Commission with support to allow it to carry out its mission.  The Commission will report to the President with its specific findings and recommendations before the end of 2016, providing the country a roadmap for future actions that will build on the CNAP and protect our long-term security online. 

Raise the Level of Cybersecurity across the Country

While the Commission conducts this forward looking review, we will continue to raise the level of cybersecurity across the Nation.

Strengthen Federal Cybersecurity

The Federal Government has made significant progress in improving its cybersecurity capabilities, but more work remains.  To expand on that progress and address the longstanding, systemic challenges in Federal cybersecurity, we must re-examine our Government’s legacy approach to cybersecurity and information technology, which requires each agency to build and defend its own networks.  These actions build upon the foundation laid by the Cybersecurity Cross-Agency Priority Goalsand the 2015 Cybersecurity Strategy and Implementation Plan.

Ø  The President’s 2017 Budget proposes a $3.1 billion Information Technology Modernization Fund, as a down payment on the comprehensive overhaul that must be undertaken in the coming years.  This revolving fund will enable agencies to invest money up front and realize the return over time by retiring, replacing, or modernizing antiquated IT infrastructure, networks, and systems that are expensive to maintain, provide poor functionality, and are difficult to secure.

Ø  The Administration has created the position of Federal Chief Information Security Officer to drive cybersecurity policy, planning, and implementation across the Federal Government.  This is the first time that there will be a dedicated senior official who is solely focused on developing, managing, and coordinating cybersecurity strategy, policy, and operations across the entire Federal domain.

Ø  The Administration is requiring agencies to identify and prioritize their highest value and most at-risk IT assets and then take additional concrete steps to improve their security.

Ø  The Department of Homeland Security, the General Services Administration, and other Federal agencies will increase the availability of government-wide shared services for IT and cybersecurity, with the goal of taking each individual agency out of the business of building, owning, and operating their own IT when more efficient, effective, and secure options are available, as well as ensuring that individual agencies are not left on their own to defend themselves against the most sophisticated threats.

Ø  The Department of Homeland Security is enhancing Federal cybersecurity by expanding the EINSTEIN and Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation programs.  The President’s 2017 Budget supports all Federal civilian agencies adopting these capabilities.

Ø  The Department of Homeland Security is dramatically increasing the number of Federal civilian cyber defense teams to a total of 48, by recruiting the best cybersecurity talent from across the Federal Government and private sector.  These standing teams will protect networks, systems, and data across the entire Federal Civilian Government by conducting penetration testing and proactively hunting for intruders, as well as providing incident response and security engineering expertise.

Ø  The Federal Government, through efforts such as the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, will enhance cybersecurity education and training nationwide and hire more cybersecurity experts to secure Federal agencies.  As part of the CNAP, the President’s Budget invests $62 million in cybersecurity personnel to:

o   Expand the Scholarship for Service program by establishing a CyberCorps Reserve program, which will offer scholarships for Americans who wish to obtain cybersecurity education and serve their country in the civilian Federal government;

o   Develop a Cybersecurity Core Curriculum that will ensure cybersecurity graduates who wish to join the Federal Government have the requisite knowledge and skills; and,

o   Strengthen the National Centers for Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity Program to increase the number of participating academic institutions and students, better support those institutions currently participating, increase the number of students studying cybersecurity at those institutions, and enhance student knowledge through program and curriculum evolution.

Ø  The President’s Budget takes additional steps to expand the cybersecurity workforce by:

o   Enhancing student loan forgiveness programs for cybersecurity experts joining the Federal workforce;

o   Catalyzing investment in cybersecurity education as part of a robust computer science curriculum through the President’s Computer Science for All Initiative.

Empower Individuals

The privacy and security of all Americans online in their daily lives is increasingly integral to our national security and our economy. The following new actions build on the President’s 2014 BuySecure Initiative to strengthen the security of consumer data.

Ø  The President is calling on Americans to move beyond just the password to leverage multiple factors of authentication when logging-in to online accounts.  Private companies, non-profits, and the Federal Government are working together to help more Americans stay safe online through a new public awareness campaign that focuses on broad adoption of multi-factor authentication.  Building off the Stop.Think.Connect. campaign and efforts stemming from the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, the National Cyber Security Alliance will partner with leading technology companies and civil society to promote this effort and make it easier for millions of users to secure their accounts online.  This will support a broader effort to increase public awareness of the individual’s role in cybersecurity.

Ø  The Federal Government is accelerating adoption of strong multi-factor authentication and identity proofing for citizen-facing Federal Government digital services.  The General Services Administration will establish a new program that will better protect and secure the data and personal information of Americans as they interact with Federal Government services, including tax data and benefit information.

Ø  The Administration is conducting a systematic review of where the Federal Government can reduce its use of Social Security Numbers as an identifier of citizens. 

Ø  The Federal Trade Commission recently relaunchedIdentityTheft.Gov, to serve as a one-stop resource for victims to report identity theft, create a personal recovery plan, and print pre-filled letters and forms to send to credit bureaus, businesses, and debt collectors.

Ø  The Small Business Administration (SBA), partnering with the Federal Trade Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy, will offercybersecurity training to reach over 1.4 million small businesses and small business stakeholders through 68 SBA District Offices, 9 NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership Centers, and other regional networks across the country. 

Ø  The Administration is announcing new milestones in the President’s BuySecure Initiative to secure financial transactions.  As of today the Federal Government has supplied over 2.5 million more secure Chip-and-PIN payment cards, and transitioned to this new technology the entire fleet of card readers managed by the Department of the Treasury.  Through government and private-sector leadership, more secure chip cards have been issued in the United States than any other country in the world. 

Enhance Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience

The national and economic security of the United States depends on the reliable functioning of the Nation’s critical infrastructure.  A continued partnership with the owners and operators of critical infrastructure will improve cybersecurity and enhance the Nation’s resiliency.  This work builds off the President’s previous cybersecurity focused Executive Orders on Critical Infrastructure (2013) and Information Sharing (2015).

Ø  The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Energy are contributing resources and capabilities to establish a National Center for Cybersecurity Resilience where companies and sector-wide organizations can test the security of systems in a contained environment, such as by subjecting a replica electric grid to cyber-attack.

Ø  The Department of Homeland Security will double the number of cybersecurity advisors available to assist private sector organizations with in-person, customized cybersecurity assessments and implementation of best practices.

Ø  The Department of Homeland Security is collaborating with UL and other industry partners to develop a Cybersecurity Assurance Program to test and certify networked devices within the “Internet of Things,” whether they be refrigerators or medical infusion pumps, so that when you buy a new product, you can be sure that it has been certified to meet security standards.

Ø  The National Institute of Standards and Technology is soliciting feedback in order to inform further development of itsCybersecurity Framework for improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity.  This follows two years of adoption by organizations across the country and around the world.

Ø   Commerce Secretary Pritzker cut the ribbon on the new National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, a public-private research and development partnership that will allow industry and government to work together to develop and deploy technical solutions for high-priority cybersecurity challenges and share those findings for the benefit of the broader community.

Ø  The Administration is calling on major health insurers and healthcare stakeholders to help them take new and significant steps to enhance their data stewardship practices and ensure that consumers can trust that their sensitive health data will be safe, secure, and available to guide clinical decision-making.

Secure Technology

Even as we work to improve our defenses today, we know the Nation must aggressively invest in the science, technology, tools, and infrastructure of the future to ensure that they are engineered with sustainable security in mind.

Ø  Today the Administration is releasing its 2016 Federal Cybersecurity Research and Development Strategic Plan.  This plan, which was called for in the 2014 Cybersecurity Enhancement Act, lays out strategic research and development goals for the Nation to advance cybersecurity technologies driven by the scientific evidence of efficacy and efficiency.

Ø  In addition, the Government will work with organizations such as the Linux Foundation’s Core Infrastructure Initiative to fund and secure commonly used internet “utilities” such as open-source software, protocols, and standards.  Just as our roads and bridges need regular repair and upkeep, so do the technical linkages that allow the information superhighway to flow.

Deter, Discourage, and Disrupt Malicious Activity in Cyberspace

Better securing our own digital infrastructure is only part of the solution.  We must lead the international effort in adopting principles of responsible state behavior, even while we take steps to deter and disrupt malicious activity.  We cannot pursue these goals alone – we must pursue them in concert with our allies and partners around the world.

Ø  In 2015, members of the G20 joined with the United States in affirming important norms, including the applicability of international law to cyberspace, the idea that states should not conduct the cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property for commercial gain, and in welcoming the report of a United Nations Group of Governmental Experts, which included a number of additional norms to promote international cooperation, prevent attacks on civilian critical infrastructure, and support computer emergency response teams providing reconstitution and mitigation services.  The Administration intends to institutionalize and implement these norms through further bilateral and multilateral commitments and confidence building measures.

Ø  The Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is increasing funding for cybersecurity-related activities by more than 23 percent to improve their capabilities to identify, disrupt, and apprehend malicious cyber actors.

Ø  U.S. Cyber Command is building a Cyber Mission Force of 133 teams assembled from 6,200 military, civilian, and contractor support personnel from across the military departments and defense components.  The Cyber Mission Force, which will be fully operational in 2018, is already employing capabilities in support of U.S. Government objectives across the spectrum of cyber operations.

Improve Cyber Incident Response

Even as we focus on preventing and deterring malicious cyber activity, we must also maintain resilience as events occur.  Over the past year, the country faced a wide array of intrusions, ranging from criminal activity to cyber espionage.  By applying lessons learned from past incidents we can improve management of future cyber incidents and enhance the country’s cyber-resilience.

Ø  By this spring, the Administration will publically release a policy for national cyber incident coordination and an accompanyingseverity methodology for evaluating cyber incidents so that government agencies and the private sector can communicate effectively and provide an appropriate and consistent level of response.

Protect the Privacy of Individuals

In coordination with the information technology and cybersecurity efforts above, the Administration has launched a groundbreaking effort to enhance how agencies across the Federal Government protect the privacy of individuals and their information.  Privacy has been core to our Nation from its inception, and in today’s digital age safeguarding privacy is more critical than ever. 

Ø  Today, the President signed an Executive Order that created a permanent Federal Privacy Council, which will bring together the privacy officials from across the Government to help ensure the implementation of more strategic and comprehensive Federal privacy guidelines.  Like cyber security, privacy must be effectively and continuously addressed as our nation embraces new technologies, promotes innovation, reaps the benefits of big data and defends against evolving threats.

Fund Cybersecurity

In order to implement these sweeping changes, the Federal Government will need to invest additional resources in its cybersecurity.  That is why the 2017 Budget allocates more than $19 billion for cybersecurity – a more than 35 percent increase over the 2016 enacted level.  These resources will enable agencies to raise their level of cybersecurity, help private sector organizations and individuals better protect themselves, disrupt and deter adversary activity, and respond more effectively to incidents.

White House Issues Fact Sheet on Administration’s Efforts to Respond to Zika Virus

The White House has issued a Fact Sheet:  Preparing for and Responding to the Zika Virus at Home and Abroad:

 

Since late last year, the Administration has been aggressively working to combat Zika, a virus primarily spread by mosquitoes that has recently been linked to birth defects and other concerning health outcomes.  The Federal Government has been monitoring the Zika virus and working with our domestic and international public health partners to alert healthcare providers and the public about Zika; provide public health laboratories with diagnostic tests; and detect and report cases both domestically and internationally. 

 

The Administration is taking every appropriate measure to protect the American people, and today announced that it is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to enhance our ongoing efforts to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus, both domestically and internationally.  The Administration will submit a formal request to Congress shortly.

 

The Pan American Health Organization reports 26 countries and territories in the Americas with local Zika transmission.  While we have not yet seen transmission of the Zika virus by mosquitoes within the continental United States, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories in warmer areas with Aedes aegpyti mosquito populations are already seeing active transmission. In addition, some Americans have returned to the continental U.S. from affected countries in South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands with Zika infections.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 50 laboratory-confirmed cases among U.S. travelers from December 2015- February 5, 2016.   As spring and summer approach, bringing with them larger and more active mosquito populations, we must be fully prepared to mitigate and quickly address local transmission within the continental U.S., particularly in the Southern United States.

 

The requested resources will build on our ongoing preparedness efforts and will support essential strategies to combat this virus, such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs; accelerating vaccine research and diagnostic development; enabling the testing and procurement of vaccines and diagnostics; educating health care providers, pregnant women and their partners; improving epidemiology and expanding laboratory and diagnostic testing capacity; improving health services and supports for low-income pregnant women, and enhancing the ability of Zika-affected countries to better combat mosquitoes and control transmission. 

 

There is much that we do not yet know about Zika and its relationship to the poor health outcomes that are being reported in Zika-affected areas. We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus. Congressional action on the Administration’s request will accelerate our ability to prevent, detect and respond to the Zika virus and bolster our ability to reduce the potential for future infectious disease outbreaks.

 

Department of Health and Human Services – $1.48 billion

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – $828 million.  The request includes funding to support prevention and response strategies through the following activities:

·         Support Zika virus readiness and response capacity in States and territories with mosquito populations that are known to transmit Zika virus, with a priority focus on areas with ongoing Zika transmission;

·         Enhance mosquito control programs through enhanced laboratory, epidemiology and surveillance capacity in at-risk areas to reduce the opportunities for Zika transmission;

·         Establish rapid response teams to limit potential clusters of Zika virus in the United States;

·         Improve laboratory capacity and infrastructure to test for Zika virus and other infectious diseases;

·         Implement surveillance efforts to track Zika virus in communities and in mosquitoes;

·         Deploy targeted prevention and education strategies with key populations, including pregnant women, their partners, and health care professionals;

·         Expand the CDC Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, improve Guillain Barré syndrome tracking, and ensure the ability of birth defect registries across the country to detect risks related to Zika;

·         Increase research into the link between Zika virus infections and the birth defect microcephaly and measure changes in incidence rates over time;

·         Enhance international capacity for virus surveillance, expand the Field Epidemiology Training program, laboratory testing, health care provider training, and vector surveillance and control in countries at highest risk of Zika virus outbreaks; and

·         Improve diagnostics for Zika virus, including advanced methods to refine tests, and support advanced developments for vector control.

 

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – $250 million. The request seeks a temporary one-year increase in Puerto Rico’s Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) to provide an estimated $250 million in additional Federal assistance to support health services for pregnant women at risk of infection or diagnosed with Zika virus and for children with microcephaly, and other health care costs.  This request does not make any changes to Puerto Rico’s underlying Medicaid program, and the additional funding will not be counted towards Puerto Rico’s current Medicaid allotment. Puerto Rico is experiencing ongoing active transmission of Zika. Unlike States, Puerto Rico’s Medicaid funding is capped, which has limited capacity to respond to these emergent and growing health needs.

 

Vaccine Research and Diagnostic Development & Procurement – $200 million. The request includes $200 million for research, rapid advanced development and commercialization of new vaccines and diagnostic tests for Zika virus. It includes funding for the National Institutes of Health to build upon existing resources and work to develop a vaccine for Zika virus and the chikungunya virus, which is spread by the same type of mosquito.  Funding will accelerate this work and improve scientific understanding of the disease to inform the development of additional tools to combat it. The request also includes resources for the Food and Drug Administration to support Zika virus medical product development including the next generation diagnostic devices.

 

Other HHS Response Activities – $210 million.  The request includes funding to establish a new Urgent and Emerging Threat Fund to address Zika virus and other outbreaks.  This funding would be available to support emerging needs related to Zika, including additional support to States for emerging public health response needs should mosquito populations known to be potential Zika carriers migrate to additional States.

 

In addition, the request includes funding to support Puerto Rico’s community health centers in preventing, screening, and treating the Zika virus, expand home visiting services targeting low-income pregnant women at risk of Zika virus, and provide targeted maternal and child health.

 

U.S. Agency for International Development  $335 million

The request includes investments to support affected countries’ ability to control mosquitoes and the transmission of the virus; support maternal health; expand public education on prevention and response; and create new incentives for the development of vaccines and diagnostics.  The request would also provide flexibility in the use of remaining USAID Ebola funds.  Activities would focus particularly on South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and would:

·         Implement integrated vector management activities in countries at-risk of Zika virus;

·         Stimulate private sector research and development of vaccines, diagnostics, and vector control innovations through public private partnerships and mechanisms to provide incentives such as advance market commitments or volume guarantees;

·         Support training of health care workers in affected countries, including providing information about best practices for supporting children with microcephaly;

·         Support for pregnant women’s health, including helping them access repellant to protect against mosquitos.

·         Establish education campaigns to empower communities in affected countries to take actions to protect themselves from Zika Virus as well as other mosquito-borne diseases; and

·         Issue a Global Health Security Grand Challenge calling for groundbreaking innovations in diagnostics, vector control, personal protection, community engagement and surveillance for Zika and other infectious diseases.

 

U.S. Department of State – $41 million

The funding request includes support for U.S. citizens in affected countries, medical support for State Department employees in affected countries, public diplomacy, communications, and other operations activities.  State would also support the World Health Organization and its regional arm, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), to minimize the Zika threat in affected countries while reducing the risk of further spreading the virus.  These resources will support critical public health actions underway, including preparedness, surveillance, data collection, and risk communication.  Activities would also include support for UNICEF’s Zika response efforts in Brazil; activities to bolster diagnostic capabilities through deployment of equipment and specialized training.

 

For more information on the Zika virus and CDC guidance about how Americans can protect themselves, visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika/.

Clinton Camp Highlights Difference with Sanders on Gun Safety in Lead up to South Carolina Primary

Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton face off on issue of gun safety in debate in Milwaukee © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton face off on issue of gun safety in debate in Milwaukee © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

On the same day when a Connecticut judge held a hearing on whether the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) requires dismissal of a suit brought by Sandy Hook victims families against gun manufacturers; when an Uber driver was being arraigned in a Kalamazoo, Michigan court for massacring six people with a semi-automatic assault weapon he bought legally but was not licensed to carry; while in the Senate, Democrats Kristin Gillibrand and Blumenthal were pushing for a law that would keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, the Hillary Clinton campaign organized a call to highlight rival Bernie Sanders’ weak record on gun safety.

South Carolina State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, the Charleston legislator leading the charge on enacting gun safety measures following last year’s tragic shooting there, joined Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey  to emphasize Sanders’ role in enacting PLCAA, which protects gun manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for gun crimes, as well as his vote to create the Charleston Loophole, which enabled  the Charleston shooter to purchase a gun, which a completed background check would have barred him from buying.

Sanders voted against the Brady Bill five times, voted to create Charleston loophole which allows someone to buy a gun before a background check has been completed, made it harder to close down gun shops, voted to allow guns on trains. And he voted to shield gun dealers and manufacturers for any culpability, a law that is being used to dismiss the suit of nine Sandy Hook families.

“When the NRA called the bill [giving gun dealers and manufacturers immunity] that Sanders voted for the most important gun legislation in last 20 years, what they were saying was that it was the most important legislation that failed to make any of us safer, in fact, made us all in much greater danger,” said Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy.

“You can’t underestimate how much damage was done by the 2005 law – the reason that NRA touted it as greatest legislative victory,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “It gave sweeping legal immunity to gun dealers and manufacturers, the kind of immunity that nearly no other industry has, but thanks to that law, and NRA work and those who supported, gun dealers, manufacturers are shielded from liability.”

The law granting immunity provides a disincentive for gun manufacturers to build smart guns, so that a child could not pick a gun out of his mother’s purse and shoot her dead, as happened, or a teenager could not accidentally kill a friend, or purposefully go to his middle school and murder other students, or a criminal who burgled a house could not use a stolen gun to shoot kill a homeowner who interrupted a burglary.  Or an alienated teenager could not come upon a parent’s gun and in a fit of depression, commit suicide. The list goes on and on.

“That’s exactly right,” said Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy. “There is no incentive to make sure guns aren’t sold that get onto the street, no incentive for screening…. We have seen in this country retailers who offer smart gun tech boycotted. Historic companies that started talking about manufacturing smart guns, making guns safer, were boycotted. This is activist group – they want no regulation. they know who their friends are in senate and who their enemies.”

And in Connecticut, it is being used to shield gun manufacturers from a lawsuit from families of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre.

“The NRA that sponsored that legislation, they don’t want guns to be safer,” said Governor Malloy. “They think that’s no one’s obligation. “We have a pharmaceuticals industry that does billions of dollars of research, we don’t grant to them the same protections we grant to the gun industry. Sanders was wrong on this, and he should admit it now. He likes for everyone else to admit their mistake. The death and destruction [immunity] has caused. he should be held accountable for that,” Governor Malloy said.

Sanders also voted to limit the time the federal government has to complete a background check to three days; if for some reason (like budget shortfall and overworked staff) the check cannot be completed in three days’ time, the sale can go through. It’s how the man responsible for murdering nine at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC obtained his gun, even though he would otherwise have failed the background check.

“This issue is extremely important – taken to Senate floor every week since January to discuss, particularly important in African-American community – gun violence is leading cause of death for young black men, more than next nine leading causes combined,” said South Carolina State Senator Marlon Kimpson, the Charleston legislator leading the charge on enacting gun safety measures following last year’s tragic shooting there.

“It’s personal to me- I represent Charleston, where there was the shooting of 9 churchgoers and attempted murder of 5 others in the Mother Emanuel massacre. That killer had rage in his heart no law could have healed, but it shouldn’t have been so easy to buy a gun – because of the loophole the NRA lobbied its allies in Congress to get – the FBI only has three days to complete a background check; after that, if the check is delayed or needs more time, too bad, the gun sale proceeds no matter what about background history. It is now known as ‘Charleston loophole.’

“Before South Carolina goes to the polls on Saturday, I hope to ask Sanders why voted for the loophole I don’t expect Sanders to answer. In July he said, ‘Guns in Vermont are not the same as guns in Chicago, Los Angeles. In our state, they are used for hunting, in Chicago, used for kids and gangs killing other kids or police officers shooting innocent people.’ The language is troubling – a gun from Vermont can kill an innocent churchgoer the same as in South Carolina. The loophole passed at the federal level makes all our communities less safe.

“South Carolinians need a president to close the Charleston Loophole. That’s why I found it so troubling that Sanders said Clinton is standing with Obama just to pander to black voters. I will be a very vocal voice in discussing Clinton’s consistent track record on this issue – my voters take her track record seriously.

Democratic Senators  have introduced the  “The Background Check Completion Act, which would require a completed background check for every gun buyer who purchases a gun from a federally-licensed gun dealer, closing the loophole that has allowed thousands of gun sales to prohibited buyers, including the sale of the firearm used by Dylann Roof in his deadly attack at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in June.”

Sanders has failed to cosponsor Sen. Blumenthal’s Background Check Completion Act to close the Charleston loophole, which has 14 Democratic cosponsors, even though he has sponsored or cosponsored more than 20 pieces of legislation in recent months. And when asked directly in January, Sanders “would not fully commit his support to closing the so-called ‘Charleston loophole.’”

“Compare the Sanders record with Clinton’s record on guns,” Governor Malloy said. “If guns and gun safety is at all important to you and your community you have no choice but to vote for Clinton. Sanders still hasn’t said that vote was wrong. He talks about small shops in Vermont. This is not about small shops in Vermont, not about hunting guns. It’s about protection protecting industry from having to do anything to make these weapons safer.

“The argument about who was on the right of President Obama in the debate eight years ago [is specious]. The question is, ‘Did you support Brady or not, exempting the gun industry in a way no other is, or not? He voted with the NRA and the gun industry. That’s the reality.”

“As a state attorney general, we see this as federal issue, a national issue,” said Healey. “It doesn’t work that guns are treated differently in Vermont. Guns are bought and sold all over and are easily trafficked, transported between and amongst states with too much ease because of inadequate federal law. That’s why it is so important no matter what state you are living in.”

I see another issue implicit in Sanders’ gun legislation record: Sanders has assaulted Clinton charging that she is beholden to Wall Street and special interests because she has accepted money for speeches and donations. I see in his support for the NRA his own interest in keeping the NRA away from spending money to defeat his reelection, having learned in his 1988 defeat for Congress what the NRA could do.

But that changed in 1990, when the NRA decided that Sanders, challenging the same guy he lost to in 1988, Peter Smith, was the lesser of two evils. ” But that year, he was the enemy of the NRA’s enemy,” wrote David A. Fahrenthold (“How the National Rifle Association helped get Bernie Sanders elected” Washington Post, July 19, 2015).

Today, he uses that defeat to show that he stands up to the NRA, but the opposite would seem to be true: he learned to take positions so as not to antagonize the NRA.

“We have a public health crisis when it comes to gun violence – since Sandy Hook, nearly 100,000 lives have been lost to gun violence,” AG Healey said. “It is more important than ever we have president who understands the importance of issue, with a demonstrated track record, who will walk into Oval Office on Day 1 with concrete plans, real plans to address, and has a proven record of standing up to NRA, not standing with them.”

_____________

© 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 editor@news-photos-features.com. Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

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.

___________________

News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. For editorial feature and photo information,  email editor@news-photos-features.com. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

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

_____________________________

© 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,