White House Report: SNAP Food Stamps Program Lifted 4.7 Million Out of Poverty in 2014

A new report released today from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) finds that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, is highly effective at reducing food insecurity—the government’s measure for whether households lack the resources for consistent and dependable access to food. The report highlights a growing body of research that finds that children who receive food assistance see improvements in health and academic performance and that these benefits are mirrored by long-run improvements in health, educational attainment, and economic self-sufficiency. The report also features new research that shows benefit levels are often inadequate to sustain families through the end of the month—resulting in high-cost consequences, such as a 27 percent increase in the rate of hospital admissions due to low blood sugar for low-income adults between the first and last week of the month, as well as diminished performance on standardized tests among school age children.

Each month, SNAP helps about 46 million low-income Americans put food on the table. The large majority of households receiving SNAP include children, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, and working adults. Two-thirds of SNAP benefits go to households with children.

Today’s CEA report draws on a growing body of high-quality research about food insecurity and SNAP, finding that:

SNAP plays an important role in reducing both poverty and food insecurity in the United Statesespecially among children.

  • SNAP benefits lifted at least 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2014—including 2.1 million children. SNAP also lifted more than 1.3 million children out of deep poverty, or above half of the poverty line (for example, $11,925 for a family of four).
  • The temporary expansion of SNAP benefits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) lifted roughly 530,000 households out of food insecurity. 

SNAP benefits support vulnerable populations including children, individuals with disabilities, and the elderly, as well as an increasing number of working families.

  • Nearly one in two households receiving SNAP benefits have children, and three-quarters of recipient households have a child, an elderly member, or a member with a disability. Fully 67 percent of the total value of SNAP benefits go to households with children as these households on average get larger benefits than households without children.
  • Over the past 20 years, the overall share of SNAP recipient households with earned income rose by 50 percent. Among recipient households with children, the share with a working adult has doubled since 1990.

SNAP’s impact on children lasts well beyond their childhood years, providing long-run benefits for health, education, and economic self-sufficiency.

  • Among adults who grew up in disadvantaged households when the Food Stamp Program was first being introduced, access to Food Stamps before birth and in early childhood led to significant reductions in the likelihood of obesity and significant increases in the likelihood of completing high school.
  • Early exposure to food stamps also led to reductions in metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions associated with heart disease and diabetes) and increased economic self-sufficiency among disadvantaged women.

SNAP has particularly large benefits for women and their families.

  • Maternal receipt of Food Stamps during pregnancy reduces the incidence of low birth-weight by between 5 and 23 percent.
  • Exposure to food assistance in utero and through early childhood has large overall health and economic self-sufficiency impacts for disadvantaged women. 

The majority of working-age SNAP recipients already participate in the labor market, and the program includes important supports to help more recipients successfully find and keep work.

  • Fifty-seven percent of working-age adults receiving SNAP are either working or looking for work, while 22 percent do not work due to a disability. Many recipients are also the primary caregivers of young children or family members with disabilities.
  • SNAP also supports work through the Employment and Training program, which directly helps SNAP beneficiaries gain the skills they need to succeed in the labor market in order to find and retain work. During fiscal year 2014, this program served about 600,000 SNAP recipients. 

Even with SNAP’s positive impact, nearly one in seven American households experienced food insecurity in 2014.

  • These households—which included 15 million children—lacked the resources necessary for consistent and dependable access to food.
  • In 2014, 40 percent of all food-insecure households—and nearly 6 percent of US households overall—were considered to have very lowfood security. This means that, in nearly seven million households, at least one person in the household missed meals and experienced disruptions in food intake due to insufficient resources for food. 

While SNAP benefits allow families to put more food on the table,current benefit levels are often insufficient to sustain them through the end of the month, with substantial consequences.

  • More than half of SNAP households currently report experiencing food insecurity, and the fraction reporting very low food security has risen since the end of the temporary benefits expansion under ARRA.
  • New research has linked diminished food budgets at the end of each month to high-cost consequences, including:

o   A drop-off in caloric intake, with estimates of this decline ranging from 10 to 25 percent over the course of the month;

o   A 27 percent increase in the rate of hospital admissions due to low blood sugar for low-income adults between the first and last week of the month;

o   An 11 percent increase in the rate of disciplinary actions among school children in SNAP households between the first and last week of the month;

o   Diminished student performance on standardized tests, with performance improving only gradually again after the next month’s benefits are received.

Administration Efforts to Build on Progress

To reduce hunger and improve family well-being, the Obama administration has been and remains dedicated to providing American children and families with better access to the nutrition they need to thrive. These investments make a real and measurable difference in the lives of children and their families, and ensure a brighter, healthier future for the entire country.

Through the Recovery Act, the Administration temporarily increased SNAP benefits by 14 percent during the Great Recession to help families put food on the table.  Reports indicate that food security among low-income households improved from 2008 to 2009 amidst a severe recession and increased unemployment; a significant part of that improvement is likely attributable to SNAP.

The Administration has also developed several initiatives to improve food security and nutrition for vulnerable children.  Through the Community Eligibility Provision, schools in high-poverty areas are now able to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students with significantly less administrative burden. Recent revisions to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) added a cash benefit to allow participants to purchase fruits and vegetables, a change that substantially increased the value of the package. The Administration also has expanded access for low-income children to nutritious food during the summer months when school meals are unavailable and the risk of food insecurity is heightened. The results of these efforts have been promising. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) delivered 23 million more summer meals than in 2009.  And the Administration has successfully implemented Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (SEBTC) pilots, which provide additional food assistance to low-income families with children during the summer months. These pilots were found to reduce very low food security among children by 26 percent.  The President’s 2016 Budget proposed a significant expansion of this effort.

Finally, this Administration has provided select states waivers to test ways of reducing the administrative burdens of SNAP for elderly households, a population that continues to be underserved. After seeing positive results in participating states, including an increase of elderly participation by more than 50 percent in Alabama, the President’s 2016 Budget included a proposal to create a state option that would expand upon these efforts to improve access to SNAP benefits for the elderly.

Spate of Gun Deaths Embolden Dems to Call for Universal Background Checks But More is Needed

Gun violence prevention advocates won one victory in May – Oregon passed universal background checks – but suffered a bigger loss, as Texas voted to allow concealed carry of guns on campuses of public colleges across the state. This is despite the fact that the most famous thing to happen at the University of Texas-Austin was the first mass shooting in America, on August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman climbed the University of Texas Tower and used a sniper to kill 16 and wound 31.

Ironically, Oregon, which allows concealed carry on college campuses, just this month was the setting for the latest campus massacre.

Also this month, a six year old murdered his three-year old sibling with his father’s gun, kept loaded, atop their refrigerator.

Indeed, roughly every week, a toddler is killed or kills with a gun. How many more are added to the list, provided in mid-April by Colette Martin, of Moms Demand Action, which had already produced 11 children under the age of 15 who had been shot accidentally so far that month.

“It’s shocking to me – as I investigate laws at states – because the federal is useless – depending on zipcode, leaving a loaded gun on a coffee table is either a crime or nothing,” Martin told a Gun Violence Prevention forum at Temple Beth-el of Great Neck, “That’s why we read stories every day that a child is shot accidentally. We are not talking suicide or domestic violence.”

Her list included 5 year olds shooting 2 year olds; a 15 year old in Brooklyn who shot himself in the chest; in Houston, a 5 year old was shot by 4 year old (the fourth in 3 weeks); a mom’s boyfriend, cleaning his gun, accidentally shot a 9 year old.

“The NRA won’t tell you but two children a week will die this way, through accidental gunshot wounds – many more hurt, life changing injuries – a pattern so predictable. Over 100 kids a year will be dead because someone didn’t store gun properly.

“Is there any product that kills that many kids that we’re not regulating?

“It should be a crime to leave a loaded gun accessible to children –a punishable crime. That is a glaring omission from New York’s Safe Act,” she says.

That’s also the basis for a proposed law in New York, Nicholas’ Law – named for a 12 year old killed by playing at friend’s house where unsecured loaded gun and friend shot him, accidentally.

Other legislative actions that need to happen nationally:

Repealing laws that ban pediatricians from raising questions about guns in the home and recommending they be locked up (such as in Florida).

Repealing Stand Your Ground (aka “License to Kill”), another law written by the NRA and ALEC (a front for the Koch Brothers) and spread like cancer among the states, starting in Florida under then-Governor Jeb Bush.

Changing the requirements to purchase and possess guns. Norman Siegel, a New York civil rights lawyer and former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a letter to the New York Times in December proposed a nationwide state registration program, similar to motor vehicle registration. “Every two years the owner of a gun would be required to bring his or her weapon in for inspection and re-registration. If the owner no longer possesses the weapon, he or she should be required to explain what happened to the gun. Perhaps under such a program we, as a nation, can realistically ameliorate the problem of guns winding up in the hands of lawbreakers and/or the mentally ill.”

And for those who charge that gun registration is somehow violating 2nd Amendment rights, look to the oppressive Voter ID and registration requirements being passed around the country which effectively put barriers in front of citizens’ right to vote.

Moreover, gun rights fanatics have no problem cancelling out the First Amendment’s freedom of speech in banning pediatricians from discussing gun safety with their patients’ families.

Gun violence is not a 2nd amendment issue. It is a public health issue, and should be treated in the same way. And if anything violates the founding premise of this country, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” it is the outsized weight given to so-called gun rights which never actually existed.

“This family’s only child is gone. It’s not just a legislative change, it’s part of the cultural change – the social norming that has to happen as with drunk driving,” she says, referring to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the way they insinuated a kind of moral code into everyday life.

Governor Cuomo seized upon the massacre Sandy Hook Elementary School as a rare moment when he could pass Safe Act.

But other states – the gun happy ones, the free-range ones, the Live Free or Die ones (and so they die) – have gone the other way – in Florida, doctors are banned (no matter the inconvenient First Amendment guaranteeing free speech, or even the Hippocratic oath) from even asking parents if there is a gun in the home, in order to urge safe storage to prevent such tragedies as Nicholas’ and the others, a move that is being copied by other states, prompting New York Times columnist Charles Blow to raise the question, “Has the NRA Won?”

And the real challenge is the latest move by the NRA in the bought-and-paid-for Congress: to force states with gun regulations to have “reciprocity” – essentially to make a gun permit like a drivers license – with states that have virtually no restrictions (and in the case of one Georgia town, which mandate every family have a gun) – in a blatant disregard of states rights, in yet another instance when hypocrisy rules the day if it is convenient.

“We have to fight reciprocity,” State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel said during the forum. “Every state has their rights – who can own a gun. New York has strong laws, but in Vermont, you only need to be 16 years of age and have a drivers license and you can have a gun.” What reciprocity means is that if you have a gun permit in one state, you can have a gun – transfer guns, drive interstate (now illegal) – scary for someone like NY.” So if a state like Texas allows concealed guns everywhere (except the State House) with no questions asked, even a person with a mental condition, a veteran with PTSD or a domestic abuser, can bring their gun to New York.

As the level of gun violence has only escalated, the NRA has come back with more and more absurd statements (such as the time after a tragedy is no time to consider what to do about it), or a move to ease access to guns.

If anything gives lie to the absurdity, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” and the even more absurd statement that the way to reduce gun violence is to make guns even more prevalent, it is the fact that gun violence kills 2500 children each year. You can also look to the murder of police officers, who are clearly “good guys” whose guns could not stop the bad guy who shot first.

In Chicago, just over Memorial Day weekend, 40 people were shot including a 4 year old girl, with nine dead, including,a 15-year old boy, Nation of Change reported.

“So far, there have been 18,760 gun incidents this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, resulting in 4,830 deaths and the death or injury of 249 children.”

There are practical things that can be done to significantly reduce the more than 30,000 gun deaths a year – that’s equivalent to a 9/11 a month – having nothing to do with violating the 2 nd Amendment or taking guns away from the ostensibly “law abiding” people (isn’t it odd that people are “law abiding” until they aren’t?)

But before we get into the long list of commonsense steps that should be taking immediately, without having any impact whatsoever on the so-called “law abiding” gunowners, there is this:

Gun Manufacturers Profit Incentive: Smart Guns

Much is made of the fact that the NRA, which is such an outsized powerhouse scaring the beejeebees out of politicians, serves the interests of gun manufacturers, not the ordinary members (a majority of whom support universal background checks and other commonsense measures).

In fact, the NRA was in favor of universal background checks until they were against them, and now, whenever there is a massacre, they call for more guns – armed guards at schools and churches, concealed carry at college campuses, in fact, everywhere but in Congress and Houses of Legislature.

So just like the corruption in FIFA won’t be rooted out politically, but when Nike and other sponsors exert their power, gun manufacturers have to see profit in being more socially conscious.

Jeb Bush speaking to 30,000 at the NRA convention, said Obama should be disarming ISIS rather than law-abiding Americans – the problem is that terrorists in the US have a clear shot at obtaining military-grade weapons and high-capacity ammo clips- while, in fact, DoD has radiofrequency controls in its military weapons so they can locate guns gone missing into the wrong hands. (Jeb! casually dismissed the Oregon shooting as “stuff happens”.)

Question is: why aren’t there ‘smart guns’ like ‘smart phones’ that can only be used by the person whose hand print is identified with the gun? Or, for that matter, a locater as a smart phone has when it is stolen, and can be located and disarmed remotely?

If the gun manufacturers would see themselves as, say, Apple Computers, coming out with the newest, latest gun that replaces the older gun, they could see big profits in sensible gun measure: namely, the same ID access that smart-phones now have: make the gun so that it can only be used by the owner. If the gun-owner is in fact law-abiding, they would have no problem with that, and would relish the idea of a gun not being snapped up by the “bad guy” (or a child) and used to kill their loved ones.

Think of the increased profits, if 100 million guns had to be replaced! Gun dealers could offer those nifty trade-in deals!

Change Tactics

The gun nuts have also long ceased being credible in arguing for “self-defense” and the “homespun, family values sport of hunting” when they refuse to allow a ban on military-grade assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that kill dozens in a blink of an eye. This is about the fantasy of being able to take down the government – something that the 2nd Amendment never envisioned, since it was intended to provide a defense for the fledgling democratic government in the absence of a standing army -like a National Guard.

It’s been 15 years since the Million Mom March in Washington DC (remember how they said if George W Bush were elected, there would be an office in the West Wing for the NRA? They were right.) Things clearly went downhill from there – for example, allowing the 1994 Assault Weapons ban to lapse.

Despite the rise of organizations like Moms Demand Action, Moms Rising, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Everytown and scores of others (typically, tragically, by family members like Richard Martinez whose lives have been forever destroyed by gun violence), Congress, in the pocket of the gun lobby, has refused to budge, and in the states, the reaction to what was considered the most heinous tragedy of all, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was to free up, not tighten, gun restrictions (New York’s Safe Act was the exception).

It’s time to change tactics and the dynamics.

Abortions are constitutionally protected but the anti-choice movement has been able to put all sorts of legal and financial impediments that make it impossible for women to exercise their Constitutionally protected rights.

The gun violence prevention advocates should adopt some of these methods. For example:

State requirements: Just as California laws regarding automobiles and the chemicals industry have forced those industries to change their manufacture to be more environmentally friendly, states could impose requirements on gun manufacturers that every gun be a smart-gun; increase taxes on ammunition (like they do on cigarettes) and fees on gun permits (like voting IDs)

Make gun manufacturers and dealers liable when their product is inappropriately used (as so many other manufacturers are – gun manufacturers are somehow exempted.)

Require gun owners to take out liability insurance so that victims’ families can be adequately compensated.

Institute laws making parents/guardians responsible for safe storage, and criminally liable if a child commits a crime with their gun. For example, no one questioned where the 15 year old Jared Michael Padgett, of Portland, Oregon, obtained the gun he used to kill freshman Emilio Hoffman and wound teacher Todd Rispler before killing himself. Or where 14 year old Jaylen Fryberg, a popular student at Marysville, Wash. high school,, got the .40-caliber handgun he used to kill a girl and strike four others in the head before turning his gun on himself and committing suicide. There were no consequences for whoever obtained the guns that these minors used to murder innocents.

Put a fee on ammunition and gun purchases to support a victims fund.

Boycott college campuses that allow guns: Parents should contact colleges and ask if guns are allowed, and if so, tell them you won’t allow your child to apply there.

“I am, a huge believer that the American people can fix this,” Martin says. “I’ve lost faith in Congress, lost faith in the federal government, lost faith in the NRA – I was never much of a fan, my father tore up his NRA card in1980s, it was apparent to him what they were about: politicizing, a money racket, they are not standing for his ideals.

“Most gun owners are not in NRA… 90% of legitimate legal gun owners don’t support NRA. Who is supporting the NRA? The gun manufacturers – Smith-Wesson, Baretta. It’s no mystery that’s who they serve – the NRA is a front for gun manufacturers.

“Their job is to fend off, violently, any regulation that will impact the sale of their product – every gun that ends up on the street, used in a crime, begins as a legal gun –it was first sold as a legal gun – no illegal gun manufacturing plant anywhere.”

(And every criminal or maniac who uses a gun starts off as a noncriminal, non-maniac. Actually, you could add that whenever there is a massacre – the more heinous that it is – gun sales go up because LaPierre warns that the government will finally confiscate guns.)

Colette adds, “I’m a gun owner and here’s the impact [the NY Safe Act] had on me (she gestures, zero). I don’t have AR 15s in my basement – New York by any measure has done a great job keeping its citizens safe -the illegal street variety and more difficult gun violence.

“I am here today to deal with children’s and guns –standard, practical storage protocols. If you have children and guns in house, lock one of them up,” she said, drawing a laugh.

“1/3 of families own at least one gun – it behooves us to ask how it is stored at home.”

But in the absence of law, there are more practical actions parents should take: “Before you allow your child to go for a playdate, ask are there guns in house That’s not political, but safety. That’s a house I don’t want my kid playing unattended

It’s no more offensive than asking if there is a pool, or a dog. It’s not easy to plan a funeral for a 12 year old – that’s inconvenient.

“How many of these parents whose kids were shot this month would do anything to go back in time and ask that question. It’s not political, not offensive- not out of order to ask about the safety.”

Martin also refutes the claim that safe storage of guns at home will somehow interfere with the ability (rare) to defend from an intruder. She says that evidence shows that it takes a gun owner “fractions of seconds” to get a gun out of a safebox and load it.

In August, Fox & friends did 5 part gun safety series and part 3 featured expert marksmen, firearms dealer and trainer Rob Pincus, who did a live demo showing how long it took in an incidence of home invasion. Someone banged the door down downstairs, he went to the gun safe’s numeric keypad taking a half second to open it, she said.

On the other hand, the incidence of home invasion is so minimal, as are the instances of a gunowner actually foiling an intruder.

“The FBI did a study of home invasions and found that 68% of home invasions happen between parties that knew each other.”

What is more likely is that believing you are defending yourself against an armed intruder, results in accidentally killing your 19 year old who comes home unexpectedly from college at 3 am.

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

Obama, Calming Nation, Lays Out ‘Sustainable’ Plan to Defeat ISIS, Terrorism

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush at 10-year commemoration ceremony of September 11, 2001 attacks at Ground Zero, World Trade Center, New York City © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush at 10-year commemoration ceremony of September 11, 2001 attacks at Ground Zero, World Trade Center, New York City © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

President Obama, speaking from the Oval Office for only the third time during his presidency, issued a rational, calm, forceful explanation of how the United States should properly defeat the Islamic State and radical Islamic terror that is spreading throughout the world. 

He attempted to counter the destructive impacts of the demagoguery of political candidates – likely an impetus to radicalization of homegrown, lone-wolf terrorists such as took place in San Bernadino – while laying out a pragmatic strategy. This includes calling upon Congress to take responsibility, not just hurl criticisms, to authorize the continued use of military force; to prohibit those on no-fly list from acquiring guns; to ban assault weapons that have no place in civil society (case in point: terror attack in US, 14 dead, 21 wounded; terror attack in UK, 2 wounded in stabbing); and address the visa waiver program that 20 million international travelers to the US have used. 

He outlined what the United States is doing, in leading a coalition now grown to 65 countries, against ISIS, which has included mounting more than 8,000 bombing attacks and sending more special forces, countering the power of ISIS to propagate propaganda and recruit through social media, restoring national security tools to penetrate online communications, and doing more to remove ISIS’ source of funding, oil which has been sold through Turkey (which previously was not possible because of Turkey’s complicity). 

But Obama warned against the baser instincts, of pushing for a new ground war that would only result in “killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.” And he warned against closing borders to refugees, unleashing discrimination and attacks against Muslims:

“…it is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.  It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country.  It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently.

“Because when we travel down that road, we lose.  That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL… 

“I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.  We were founded upon a belief in human dignity — that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.

Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges — whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks — by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people.  So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt America will prevail.” 

Here is President Obama’s speech, highlighted:

President Obama speaking at 10-Year Commemoration Ceremony of Sept 11 Attacks at Ground Zero, NYC © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama speaking at 10-Year Commemoration Ceremony of Sept 11 Attacks at Ground Zero, NYC © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Good evening.  On Wednesday, 14 Americans were killed as they came together to celebrate the holidays.  They were taken from family and friends who loved them deeply. They were white and black; Latino and Asian; immigrants and American-born; moms and dads; daughters and sons.  Each of them served their fellow citizens and all of them were part of our American family.

Tonight, I want to talk with you about this tragedy, the broader threat of terrorism, and how we can keep our country safe.

The FBI is still gathering the facts about what happened in San Bernardino, but here is what we know.  The victims were brutally murdered and injured by one of their coworkers and his wife.  So far, we have no evidence that the killers were directed by a terrorist organization overseas, or that they were part of a broader conspiracy here at home.  But it is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West.  They had stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition, and pipe bombs.  So this was an act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people. 

Our nation has been at war with terrorists since al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11.  In the process, we’ve hardened our defenses — from airports to financial centers, to other critical infrastructure.  Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have disrupted countless plots here and overseas, and worked around the clock to keep us safe.  Our military and counterterrorism professionals have relentlessly pursued terrorist networks overseas — disrupting safe havens in several different countries, killing Osama bin Laden, and decimating al Qaeda’s leadership.

Over the last few years, however, the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase.  As we’ve become better at preventing complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society.  It is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino.  And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.  

For seven years, I’ve confronted this evolving threat each morning in my intelligence briefing.  And since the day I took this office, I’ve authorized U.S. forces to take out terrorists abroad precisely because I know how real the danger is.  As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people.  As a father to two young daughters who are the most precious part of my life, I know that we see ourselves with friends and coworkers at a holiday party like the one in San Bernardino.  I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris.  And I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure.

Well, here’s what I want you to know:  The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it.  We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.  Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear.  That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for.  Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power. 

Here’s how.  First, our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary.  In Iraq and Syria, airstrikes are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure.  And since the attacks in Paris, our closest allies — including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — have ramped up their contributions to our military campaign, which will help us accelerate our effort to destroy ISIL.

Second, we will continue to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground so that we take away their safe havens.  In both countries, we’re deploying Special Operations Forces who can accelerate that offensive.  We’ve stepped up this effort since the attacks in Paris, and we’ll continue to invest more in approaches that are working on the ground. 

Third, we’re working with friends and allies to stop ISIL’s operations — to disrupt plots, cut off their financing, and prevent them from recruiting more fighters.  Since the attacks in Paris, we’ve surged intelligence-sharing with our European allies.  We’re working with Turkey to seal its border with Syria. And we are cooperating with Muslim-majority countries — and with our Muslim communities here at home — to counter the vicious ideology that ISIL promotes online.

Fourth, with American leadership, the international community has begun to establish a process — and timeline — to pursue ceasefires and a political resolution to the Syrian war. Doing so will allow the Syrian people and every country, including our allies, but also countries like Russia, to focus on the common goal of destroying ISIL — a group that threatens us all.

This is our strategy to destroy ISIL.  It is designed and supported by our military commanders and counterterrorism experts, together with 65 countries that have joined an American-led coalition.  And we constantly examine our strategy to determine when additional steps are needed to get the job done. That’s why I’ve ordered the Departments of State and Homeland Security to review the visa program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country.  And that’s why I will urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.

Now, here at home, we have to work together to address the challenge.  There are several steps that Congress should take right away.

To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun.  What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?  This is a matter of national security.

We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino.  I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures.  But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies — no matter how effective they are — cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology.  What we can do — and must do — is make it harder for them to kill. 

Next, we should put in place stronger screening for those who come to America without a visa so that we can take a hard look at whether they’ve traveled to warzones.  And we’re working with members of both parties in Congress to do exactly that.

Finally, if Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists.  For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets.  I think it’s time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight.

My fellow Americans, these are the steps that we can take together to defeat the terrorist threat.  Let me now say a word about what we should not do.

We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria.  That’s what groups like ISIL want. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield.  ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq.  But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.

The strategy that we are using now — airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country — that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory.  And it won’t require us sending a new generation of Americans overseas to fight and die for another decade on foreign soil.

Here’s what else we cannot do.  We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.  That, too, is what groups like ISIL want.  ISIL does not speak for Islam.  They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world — including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim.  If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate. 

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities.  This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse.  Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.  It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country.  It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently.

Because when we travel down that road, we lose.  That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.  Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes — and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country.  We have to remember that.

My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.  We were founded upon a belief in human dignity — that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.

Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional. Let’s not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear; that we have always met challenges — whether war or depression, natural disasters or terrorist attacks — by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people.  So long as we stay true to that tradition, I have no doubt America will prevail.  

Thank you.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

NYS Invites You to Download New ‘See Something, Send Something’ Anti-Terrorism Mobile App

New York State is increasing the number of police officers at important transit centers such as Grand Central Station. Additionally, the state has implemented a new "See Something, Send Something" mobile app © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
New York State is increasing the number of police officers at important transit centers such as Grand Central Station. Additionally, the state has implemented a new “See Something, Send Something” mobile app © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A  new “See Something, Send Something” campaign by New York State encourages New Yorkers to report suspicious activity through a simple mobile app on their smart phone. The app is available for download here.

It is one of two new  State efforts to enhance its ability to fight terrorism.

Additionally, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will hire 46 more Police Officers to increase counterterrorism capabilities at Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station and throughout the Metro-North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road and Staten Island Railway systems.

“These new efforts are essential pieces in our fight against terrorism,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “We have stepped up our preparedness in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, and we continue to remain vigilant against those who seek to spread fear and violence. Despite the tremendous pain and loss that terrorist attacks around the world have caused the people of this state, the family of New York stands stronger than ever before.”

“See Something, Send Something” allows anyone to capture suspicious activity as a photo or written note and send the information to the New York State Intelligence Center. From there, the tip will be reviewed and if relevant, sent to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Public service announcements promoting the campaign (view here and here) will be played at DMV offices and service areas along state highways.

By using the app, which can be downloaded for free for iPhone and Android phone users, there is no worry about who to send the tip to or what phone number to call—users can simply send a photo of the suspicious activity using their device’s camera, by choosing a photo from its library, or sending a written note. It also includes information on what to look for and when to report suspicious activity. The service is already available in Colorado, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

In order to keep the app focused on safety, users should report only suspicious behavior and situations (e.g., an unattended backpack or briefcase in a public place) rather than beliefs, thoughts, ideas, expressions, associations, or speech unrelated to terrorism or other criminal activity. The app does not replace 911 and should not to be used for someone needing immediate police action or to report an emergency. In the case of an immediate threat or emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.

New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico said, “The crime-solving, tip-sharing process is evolving and so are the New York State Police. This app works just like a traditional telephone crime tip line or hotline, except it is available with the touch of a finger on a handheld device. If you see something that may be linked to terrorism, send something. Your tip could provide valuable information that could prevent a tragedy.”

“It is important to remember that all New Yorkers have a role in keeping our state safe. Citizens have an obligation to report suspicious activity if they see something out of the ordinary or something that may have the potential to harm others,” John P. Melville, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner, said. “The new app gives individuals an additional way to alert authorities about possible threats.”

The 46 new MTA Police Officers will staff counterterrorism surge assignments at Grand Central and Penn Station, as well as other deployments to ensure the traveling public is protected in the MTA network. The Officers are included in the MTA’s 2016 Final Proposed Budget and will have an impact of approximately $3 million. The budget is scheduled for consideration by the MTA Board in December.

All members of the MTA Police Department have been trained in techniques to counter active shooters, such as those who have been implicated in recent terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world. Rather than wait for heavily-armed Emergency Service Unit teams to arrive, officers are taught to immediately engage, pin down and neutralize any potential threat in order to minimize casualties.

In addition, more than 90 percent of frontline personnel in all MTA operating agencies have been trained in how to protect their customers and themselves from an active shooter. Workers on New York City Transit subways and buses, the Staten Island Railway, the LIRR and Metro-North have learned how to evaluate locations where they can safely flee or hide if gunfire occurs.

MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said, “The MTA Police Department is a robust force of more than 700 officers dedicated to protecting our region’s rail transportation, and these dozens of new officers will bolster our regular counterterrorism patrols of high-visibility terminals. Our officers are well aware that they are protecting a vital public service, and their presence in major train stations serves as a visible deterrent as well as a decisive factor in quickly countering any threat.”

The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services has provided information on how to prevent terrorism and spot suspicious activity here.

Those tips include:

  • Know the normal routines of where you live and work.
    · Be aware of what is going on around you, including suspicious or out of place individuals, vehicles, mail, packages; or luggage abandoned in a crowded place, such as an airport of shopping mall.
  • Be suspicious of individuals recording, watching or unusually photographing or monitoring activities, especially near critical infrastructure.

 

Obama Administration Initiates Security Enhancements to Visa Waiver Program Used by 20 Million Foreign Visitors to US

Arriving at JF Kennedy International Airport, New York. The Obama Administration is enhancing security measures for the visa waiver program under which 20 million foreign visitors enter the US © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Arriving at JF Kennedy International Airport, New York. The Obama Administration is enhancing security measures for the visa waiver program under which 20 million foreign visitors enter the US © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The uproar over the possibility of the United States accepting Syrian refugees has called attention to the rigorous 18-24 month vetting process that refugees have to go through with fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees having come through already, in contrast to the 20 million foreign visitors who come in each year under the visa-waiver program. 

The Obama Administration has announced new enhancements to the visa-waiver program to increase security, including modifying its Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications to capture information from VWP travelers regarding any past travel to countries constituting a terrorist safe haven. 

FACT SHEET: Visa Waiver Program Enhancements

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits visa free travel for 20 million visitors per year to the United States for citizens of 38 program partner countries around the world. VWP utilizes a layered system of security to detect and prevent terrorists, serious criminals, and other potentially dangerous individuals from traveling to the United States.  These layers of security include comprehensive screening of VWP travelers prior to departure for the United States, at various points throughout the traveler’s journey, and upon arrival at U.S. ports of entry.

Over the past year, the Administration has taken a series of steps to enhance the significant security measures in the VWP. In the wake of the attacks in Paris, the administration is announcing additional actions today that will further enhance and accelerate these changes. Additionally, the Administration is working closely with Congress to provide statutory authority for many of these security enhancements, which will further improve our ability to implement and enforce the changes.

How Does the Visa Waiver Program Work?

  • Every prospective VWP traveler undergoes counterterrorism screening and must receive approval through DHS’ Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Through ESTA, DHS evaluates whether individuals are eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP before they are allowed to board a carrier bound for the United States.
  • The counterterrorism screening draws on information from U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. DHS uses this information to decide if the travel poses any law enforcement or security risks.  Without DHS approval through ESTA, VWP travelers cannot travel to the United States and must appear in person for a visa interview before they can be authorized to travel to the United States.
  • This process has been enhanced repeatedly to improve security and more effectively identify individuals who might pose a threat to the United States.
  • Travelers must be a citizen of a VWP country to use the program.  Residence in a VWP country, or the possession of refugee travel documents issued by a VWP member state, does not qualify an individual for VWP travel.

Recently Enhanced Security Measures 

DHS, in consultation with the Department of State, continuously adapts the VWP to address current threats. Over the last year, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, in coordination with several other federal agencies, have made a number of significant enhancements to the VWP to ensure our security apparatus continues to adapt in the face of evolving threats.

  • DHS introduced additional data fields to the ESTA application in November 2014 that already have produced security benefits.
  • DHS introduced new traveler screening and information sharing requirements for VWP countries in August 2015 specifically to address the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters.
  • DHS and the Department of State are working with VWP partners to implement the new VWP requirements, which will strengthen U.S. security and the security of our partners.
  • These security enhancements are part of our continuing assessments of U.S. security in the face of evolving threats and challenges, and our determination to stay one step ahead of those threats and challenges.

New Changes Announced Today

Given the terrorist attacks in Paris and the ongoing threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters, the United States is aggressively strengthening its Visa Waiver Program and bolstering our relationships with VWP partners by immediately moving forward on the following administrative actions:

  • DHS will immediately take steps to modify its Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications to capture information from VWP travelers regarding any past travel to countries constituting a terrorist safe haven.  The Director of National Intelligence, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security, will identify and regularly review these countries so that traveler risk assessments can be made on the most up-to-date information.
  • The Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and other appropriate agencies will accelerate its review process for VWP partner countries and within 60 days, will provide a full report to the President:

o   Identifying possible pilot programs designed to assess the collection and use of biometrics (fingerprints and/or photographs) in the VWP to effectively increase security; and

o   Identifying any countries that are deficient in key areas of cooperation, along with recommended options to engender compliance using a range of penalties and incentives available under his current authority including the more frequent submission of ESTAs and/or the suspension of ESTA issuances (new and/or renewals) for citizens of countries that fail to meet key metrics.

  • The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation will evaluate the terrorism information sharing that occurs between the United States and VWP countries, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, and provide a report to the President of the United States within 60 days identifying options to mitigate any deficiencies.
  • DHS will offer assistance to countries to better facilitate terrorism information sharing, specifically to include biometric pilots.  For example, DHS and the Terrorist Screening Center will assist all interested VWP countries in screening refugees or asylum seekers, including through the application of extensive terrorism information already provided to VWP members and through piloting capability for conducting near real time biometric checks.
  • The Secretaries of DHS, State, and Commerce will promote the Global Entry program among VWP partners to further expand this trusted traveler program, which includes biometrics.
  • The Secretary of Homeland Security will work with Congress to seek authority to increase Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) fines from $5,000 to $50,000 for air carriers that fail to verify a traveler’s passport data.
  • The Departments of Homeland Security and State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. intelligence community elements will deploy Foreign Fighter Surge Teams to work with countries to counter terrorist travel.
  • The Departments of Homeland Security and State will encourage and provide assistance as needed to enhance border security and legislation related to FTFs of our partner countries, and encourage more robust information sharing, better use of shared information, and more effective and efficient coordination between our partners.

Working with Congress to Enhance the Visa Waiver Program

The Administration is working with Congress to provide statutory authority for many of the key security enhancements to VWP, including:

  • Improving our ability to identify individuals who may have traveled to conflict zones to train or fight with terrorist organizations or other adversaries and increasing information sharing between our VWP partners and INTERPOL;
  • Maximizing the use of international agencies like INTERPOL to track lost and stolen travel documents, and to prevent their usage for illicit travel;
  • Encouraging VWP partner countries to share information and to use that information in their own border screening activities;
  • Accelerating the requirement for 100% of VWP travelers to use e-passports (i.e., passports with embedded security chips);
  • Exploring how biometrics could be effectively added to the VWP process; and
  • Expanding the use of the DHS’ Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Preclearance program, through which CBP law enforcement officers inspect passengers and their baggage – to include collecting and screening biometrics where appropriate – at foreign airports prior to departing for the United States

o   Through the current round of expansion, CBP is in negotiations with airports in seven VWP participant countries (Belgium, Japan, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom). Support for Preclearance expansion will greatly increase border and aviation security in the United States and abroad.

154 American Companies Totaling 11 Million Workers, $4 Trillion Revenue Commit to Climate Action

Google is among the 154 companies - altogether employing 11 million workers and totaling $4 trillion in revenue - which have signed onto the "American Business Act on Climate Pledge" © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Google is among the 154 companies – altogether employing 11 million workers and totaling $4 trillion in revenue – which have signed onto the “American Business Act on Climate Pledge” © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Even as the House Republicans, following the Senate, passed two laws nullifying the Obama Administrations efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, Obama continued his campaign at the COP21 Climate Change Summit in Paris to bring more than 150 countries together in commitments intended to keep the planet from exceeding 2 degrees Centigrade – a level of warming that would prove catastrophic. 

And while Republicans insist that “There is no crisis because I don’t believe it” (Chris Christie), or that the earth is always changing and therefore there is nothing to worry about (Marco Rubio), or that worrying about climate change “Is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard” (Donald Trump) and that efforts to transition the economy away from dependence on dirty Fossil Fuels to clean renewables will “destroy” the economy (Mitch McConnell, who is desperate to preserve dirty coal mines in Kentucky and West Virginia), some of the biggest, most important businesses in the US (certainly not Koch Industries) are pledging to support climate action, and make significant investments in developing clean technologies.

The White House just announced additional commitments from 73 companies from across the American economy who are joining the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. With this announcement, a total of 154 companies will have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge to demonstrate their support for action on climate change and the conclusion of a climate change agreement in Paris that takes a strong step forward toward a low-carbon, sustainable future.  These 154 companies have operations in all 50 statesemploy nearly 11 million people, represent more than $4.2 trillion in annual revenue, and have a combined market capitalization of over $7 trillion. 

By signing the American Business Act on Climate pledge, these companies are:

  • Voicing support for a strong Paris outcome. The pledge recognizes those countries that have already put forward climate targets, and voices support for a strong outcome in the Paris climate negotiations.
  • Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to climate action. As part of this initiative, each company is announcing significant pledges to reduce their emissions, increase low-carbon investments, deploy more clean energy, and take other actions to build more sustainable businesses and tackle climate change.

These pledges include ambitious, company-specific goals such as:

    • Reducing emissions by as much as 50 percent,
    • Reducing water usage by as much as 80 percent,
    • Achieving zero waste-to-landfill,
    • Purchasing 100 percent renewable energy, and
    • Pursuing zero net deforestation in supply chains.
    • Setting an example for their peers. Today’s announcements builds on the launch of the American Business Act on Climate Pledge in July, and the second round of announcements in October. 

The impacts of climate change are already being felt worldwide. Nineteen of the 20 hottest years on record occurred in the past two decades. Countries and communities around the world are already being affected by deeper, more persistent droughts, pounded by more severe weather, inundated by bigger storm surges, and imperiled by more frequent and dangerous wildfires. Rising temperatures can lead to more smog, longer allergy seasons, and an increased incidence of extreme-weather-related injuries, all of which imperil public health, particularly for vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and some communities of color. No corner of the planet and no sector of the global economy will remain unaffected by climate change in the years ahead.

Climate change is a global challenge that demands a global response, and President Obama is committed to leading the fight. The President’s Climate Action Plan, when fully implemented, will cut nearly 6 billion tons of carbon pollution through 2030, an amount equivalent to taking all the cars in the United States off the road for more than 4 years. The Clean Power Plan, the most significant domestic step any President has ever taken to combat climate change, will reduce emissions from the energy sector by 32% by 2030. And while the United States is leading on the international stage and the federal government is doing its part to combat climate change, hundreds of private companies, local governments, and foundations have stepped up to increase energy efficiencyboost low-carbon investing, and make solar energy more accessible to low-income Americans.

The measures taken by the public and private sectors enabled President Obama to set an ambitious but achievable goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 26-28% by 2025 last November. And in the eleven months since, we’ve seen unprecedented global momentum in the fight against climate change.

To date, more than 180 countries representing nearly 95% of global carbon emissions have reported post-2020 climate policies to the United Nations. This includes the major economies like the U.S., China, the European Union and India and it includes a large number of smaller economies, developing nations, island states and tropical countries – some of whom are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

“As the world looks toward Paris, President Obama is committed to building on this momentum, with American leadership at all levels – the federal government, state and local governments and the private sector,” the White House stated.

*          *          *

THE AMERICAN BUSINESS ACT ON CLIMATE PLEDGE

We applaud the growing number of countries that have already set ambitious targets for climate action. In this context, we support the conclusion of a climate change agreement in Paris that takes a strong step forward toward a low-carbon, sustainable future. 

We recognize that delaying action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth, public health, resilience to natural disasters, and the health of the global environment.  

Today, the following companies have joined the pledge and their detailed commitments can be viewed at: www.whitehouse.gov/ClimatePledge

21ST CENTURY FOX
365 RETAIL MARKETS
ACER AMERICA
ADOBE
AGILE SOURCING PARTNERS
AIRBNB
AKAMAI
ALL STAR SERVICES
AMAZON

AMD

AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR COMPANY
AVERY DENNISON
BEN & JERRY’S
BHPBILLITON
BIO-AMBER
BMW NA
BNY MELLON
BURNS & MCDONNELL
CANTALOUPE SYSTEMS
CANTEEN & COMPASS GROUP
CH2M
CISCO SYSTEMS, INC.
CRAIG COMMUNICATIONS
DANFOSS
DUPONT
EDP RENEWABLES NORTH AMERICA
ENEL GREEN POWER NORTH AMERICA
EQUINIX
FRHAM
GAMESA
GENENTECH
GOURMET COFFEE SERVICE
GREENWOOD ENERGY
IHG
INTERFACE
INTERNATIONAL FLAVORS & FRAGRANCES
JETBLUE
JM HUBER CORPORATION
KAISER PERMANENTE
KELLY SERVICES
KIMBALL ELECTRONICS
KOHL’S DEPARTMENT STORES
KPMG
LEGRAND NA
LENOVO
LINKEDIN
MESA ASSOCIATES
MGM RESORTS
MONDELEZ INTERNATIONAL
NATIONAL GRID
NEWS CORP
NOVARTIS
NRG
ORMAT TECHNOLOGIES
PATHEON
PROLOGIS
RIO TINTO
RM2
ROYAL VENDING
SKYONIC
STAPLES
SWITCH COMMUNICATIONS
SYMANTEC
TESLA MOTORS
TRI-ALPHA ENERGY
UNDERGROUND CONSTRUCTION
UNITED TECHNOLOGIES
VALLEY ELECTRIC ASSOCIATION
VERIZON COMMUNICATIONS
VF CORPORATION
VOLVO GROUP NORTH AMERICA
THE WITTERN GROUP
XYLEM

The following companies have previously joined the American Business Act on Climate pledge:

ABENGOA BIOENERGY US
AEMETIS
ALCOA
AMERICAN EXPRESS

APPLE

AT&T
AUTODESK
BANK OF AMERICA
BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY ENERGY
BEST BUY
BIOGEN
BLOOMBERG
CA TECHNOLOGIES
CALPINE
CAMPOS BROTHERS FARMS
CARGILL
COCA-COLA
COX
DELL
DISNEY
DSM NORTH AMERICA
EMC CORPORATION
ENER-G RUDOX
ENERGY OPTIMIZERS
FACEBOOK
FULCRUM BIOENERGY
GE
GENERAL MILLS
GENERAL MOTORS
GOLDMAN SACHS
GOOGLE
HERSHEY’S
HP
IBERDROLA USA
IBM
IKEA USA
INGERSOLL RAND
INTEL
INTEX SOLUTIONS
INTREN
INVENERGY
JOHNSON & JOHNSON
JOHNSON CONTROLS
KELLOGGS

KEYSTONE ELECTRICAL MANUFACTURING

KINGSPAN INSULATED PANELS INC
LAKESHORE LEARNING
LAM RESEARCH
LEVI STRAUSS & CO.
L’OREAL USA
MARS
MCDONALDS
MICROSOFT
MONSANTO
NATIONAL LABEL
NESTLE USA
NIKE
NOVOZYMES
ONE3LED
PACIFIC ETHANOL
PEPSI
PG&E
POET
PORTLAND GENERAL ELECTRIC
PROCTOR & GAMBLE
PWC US
QUALCOMM
RICOH USA
SALESFORCE.COM
SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC
SIEMENS USA
SONY USA
STARBUCKS
SYNGENTA/QCCP
TARGET
TRIGLOBAL ENERGY
UNILEVER
UPS
WAL-MART
XEROX

OMB: Obama Would Veto Latest Effort to Dismantle Obamacare, McConnell’s ‘Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act’

 

They’re at it again! For like the 60th time, Republicans are pushing to dismantle Obamacare. 

The latest is the sickly named “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015” sponsored by none other than that Darth Vader of anything that actually helps people, the Senate Leader himself, Sen. Mitch McConnell. 

The only thing standing in the way is President Obama’s veto, which the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) says he would. 

Here’s how the OMB explains the Administration’s position:

The Administration strongly opposes Senate passage of the Senate amendment to H.R. 3762.  By repealing numerous, key elements of current law, this legislation would take away critical benefits and health care coverage from hard-working middle‑class families.  The bill also would remove policies that are expected to help slow the growth in health care costs and that have improved the quality of care patients receive.  The Senate amendment to H.R. 3762 detracts from the work the Congress could be doing to foster job creation and economic growth.

The Affordable Care Act is working and is fully integrated into an improved American health care system.  Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions is a thing of the past.  And under the law, health care prices have grown at the slowest rate in 50 years, benefiting all Americans.

Repealing key elements of the Affordable Care Act would result in millions of individuals remaining uninsured or losing the insurance they have today.  An estimated 17.6 million Americans gained coverage as several of the Affordable Care Act’s coverage provisions have taken effect – 15.3 million since the beginning of the first open enrollment in October 2013.  The Senate amendment to H.R. 3762 would roll back coverage gains and would cost millions of hard-working middle-class families the security of affordable health coverage they deserve.

Repealing the health care law would have implications far beyond these Americans who have or will gain insurance.  More than 150 million Americans with employer-based insurance would be at risk of higher premiums and lower wages, or losing their coverage altogether.  It would raise taxes on certain middle‑class families.  The Senate amendment to H.R. 3762 also would defund the Prevention and Public Health Fund, limit women’s health care choices, and disproportionately impact low-income individuals.

This legislation is being considered by the Senate just days ahead of the December 15 deadline for Marketplace coverage that starts on January 1, 2016. Rather than refighting old political battles by once again voting to repeal basic protections that provide security for the middle class, Members of Congress should be working together to grow the economy, strengthen middle‑class families, and create new jobs.

If the President were presented with H.R. 3762, as amended by the Senate amendment, he would veto the bill.

Senate Republicans Push Two Resolutions to Nullify Clean Power Plan; Obama Vows Veto

A majority of Americans favor cutting carbon emissions to protect air and water and address the impacts of climate change and global warning. 400,000 joined the People's Climate March in New York City in 2014. Republicans in Congress are trying to nullify Obama's Clean Power Plan in advance of the Climate Summit in Paris © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A majority of Americans favor cutting carbon emissions to protect air and water and address the impacts of climate change and global warning. 400,000 joined the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014. Republicans in Congress are trying to nullify Obama’s Clean Power Plan in advance of the Climate Summit in Paris © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Office of Management & Budget is vowing that President Obama would veto two resolutions proposed by Senate Republicans intended to nullify his Clean Power Plan and undermine the international climate summit that gets underway in December in Paris.

“Senate Leader, and King Coal cohort, Mitch McConnell and his fellow Senate coal cronies will introduce two resolutions via the Congressional Review Act, a rarely used, filibuster-proof legislative scheme that only requires a simple majority to pass,” writes Anthony Rogers-Wright of Environmental Action.

“Even though President Obama has promised to veto any resolution that attempts to block his climate agenda, senators from coal-y rolling states are pushing ahead. Why the rush if they can’t get this legislation signed into law, you ask? Their real agenda is to reduce international confidence in the president’s ability to deliver on U.S. climate commitments2 – it’s a classic case of Paris sabotage. Should these senators succeed, it would send the wrong message to the world and reduce the U.S.’s standing as a global leader.”

Sally King added, “Moments after the Clean Power Plan was formally published last month, opponents of the rule filed suit to strike it down. In a congressional hearing last month the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) critics continued to claim the plan will create economic catastrophe and violates the constitution. Although they can’t stop Obama’s plan, they’re hoping that the clamor will embolden governors and state policymakers to resist complying with the rule.

“But these claims should be taken for what they are: noise. The EPA’s flexible, cost-minimizing approach to reducing carbon pollution from power plants is consistent with the Clean Air Act and the Constitution.”

The OMB explains its objections to the resolutions and why the President would veto:

S.J.Res. 23 – Disapproving EPA Rule on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Electric Utility Generating Units

(Sen. McConnell, R-KY, and 47 cosponsors)

The Administration strongly opposes S.J.Res. 23, which would undermine the public health protections of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and stop critical U.S. efforts to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.  In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the CAA gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution.  In 2009, EPA determined that GHG pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes to the climate that can, and are already, having a range of negative effects on human health and the environment.  This finding is consistent with conclusions of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and numerous other national and international scientific bodies.  Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic GHG emissions.  While the United States limits dangerous emissions of arsenic, mercury, lead, particulate matter, and ozone precursor pollution from power plants, the Carbon Pollution Standards and the Clean Power Plan put into place the first national limits on power plant carbon pollution.  The Carbon Pollution Standards will ensure that new, modified, and reconstructed power plants deploy available systems of emission reduction to reduce carbon pollution.

S.J.Res. 23 would nullify carbon pollution standards for future power plants and power plants undertaking significant modifications or reconstruction, thus slowing our country’s transition to cleaner, cutting-edge power generation technologies.  Most importantly, the resolution could enable continued build-out of outdated, high-polluting, and long-lived power generation infrastructure and impede efforts to reduce carbon pollution from new and modified power plants – when the need to act, and to act quickly, to mitigate climate change impacts on American communities has never been more clear.

Since it was enacted in 1970, and amended in 1977 and 1990, each time with strong bipartisan support, the CAA has improved the Nation’s air quality and protected public health. Over that same period of time, the economy has tripled in size while emissions of key pollutants have decreased by more than 70 percent.  Forty-five years of clean air regulation have shown that a strong economy and strong environmental and public health protection go hand-in-hand.

Because S.J.Res. 23 threatens the health and economic welfare of future generations by blocking important standards to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector that take a flexible, common sense approach to addressing carbon pollution, if the President were presented with S.J.Res. 23, he would veto the bill.

S.J.Res. 24 – Disapproving EPA Rule on Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Electric Utility Generating Units

(Sen. Capito, R-WV, and 48 cosponsors)

The Administration strongly opposes S.J.Res. 24, which would undermine the public health protections of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and stop critical U.S. efforts to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.  In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the CAA gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution.  In 2009, EPA determined that GHG pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long-lasting changes to the climate that can, and are already, having a range of negative effects on human health and the environment.  This finding is consistent with conclusions of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and numerous other national and international scientific bodies.  Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic GHG emissions.  While the United States limits dangerous emissions of arsenic, mercury, lead, particulate matter, and ozone precursor pollution from power plants, the Clean Power Plan and the Carbon Pollution Standards put into place the first national limits on power plant carbon pollution.  The Clean Power Plan empowers States to cost-effectively reduce emissions from existing sources and provides States and power plants a great deal of flexibility in meeting the requirements.  EPA expects that under the Clean Power Plan, by 2030, carbon pollution from power plants will be reduced by 32 percent from 2005 levels.

By nullifying the Clean Power Plan, S.J.Res. 24 seeks to block progress towards cleaner energy, eliminating public health and other benefits of up to $54 billion per year by 2030, including thousands fewer premature deaths from air pollution and tens of thousands of fewer childhood asthma attacks each year.  Most importantly, the resolution would impede efforts to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants – the largest source of carbon pollution in the country – when the need to act, and to act quickly, to mitigate climate change impacts on American communities has never been more clear.

Since it was enacted in 1970, and amended in 1977 and 1990, each time with strong bipartisan support, the CAA has improved the Nation’s air quality and protected public health.  Over that same period of time, the economy has tripled in size while emissions of key pollutants have decreased by more than 70 percent.  Forty-five years of clean air regulation have shown that a strong economy and strong environmental and public health protection go hand-in-hand.

Because S.J.Res. 24 threatens the health and economic welfare of future generations by blocking important standards to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector that take a flexible, common sense approach to addressing carbon pollution, if the President were presented with S.J.Res. 24, he would veto the bill.

 

 

Obama Pursuing Right Strategy Against Islamic State, as Republicans Seize on Terrorism to Fear-Monger their Way to Nomination

Republican presidential candidates are fear-mongering their way to the nomination, conflating terrorism with the refugee crisis with the immigration issue, but in the process, are willing to abandon America's founding principles. © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Republican presidential candidates are fear-mongering their way to the nomination, conflating terrorism with the refugee crisis with the immigration issue, but in the process, are willing to abandon America’s founding principles. © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

It would be a travesty if the Republicans cash in the fear they are sowing over the Paris terror attack for a ticket to the white House, in the way the Bush/Cheney Administration milked Americans’ fear after 9/11, a terror attack that incompetence made so much worse. And yet, despite their incompetence, they rode to reelection in 2004.

Brian Lehrer on NPR remarked that Jeb Bush seems to be using the Paris attacks “to claw his way back into relevance.”

On the Monday after the terror attack, AOL broadcast the headline that 72% of Americans are fearful. Well what would you expect with nonstop reports about terrorism? It’s exactly what ISIL wanted – just as Osama bin Lad3n was thrilled beyond imagination at the reaction after 9/11. In essence, thanks to Bush/Cheney reaction, 19 terrorists brought down a nation, because they let it happen.

Already, several Republican candidates have basically called for closing borders – Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush say they would only admit Christians – effectively putting a religious test in violation of the Constitution. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said Congress would withhold any funding to relocate Syrian refugees. And 27 (all but one) Republican Governors are refusing to allow any resettlement in their states, again, against the Constitution – basically a redux of what they said about the children fleeing Central American violence. It is absurd to hear the Alabama Governor justifying this stance by saying that his first priority is to keep his citizens safe, when Alabama promotes wanton gun violence, a state which ranks 4th in the nation for the highest number of incidents of and where one Alabaman is killed every 11 hours.

A doctor in a hospital in Paris talked about receiving 27 of the gunshot victims that night when the ER normally gets one. One a day? he was asked. “No, one a year. We’re not like America.”

Republicans are seizing on the fact that a passport attributed to a Syrian who came through Greece with the tens of thousands of refugees in October was left at one of the terror sites. But isn’t it interesting that this is the only terrorist found with an ID? How much logic does it take to realize that it likely was purposefully left – and very probably not the passport of the attacker at all – but was left because ISIL wants Europe and the US to cut off any safe haven for the millions that are fleeing their own terror. They want a population to terrorize. They want Muslims to be marginalized in their communities, to be able to tap the disaffected to their “cause.”

Donald Trump says he would shut down mosques. And, oh yes, points out that France has some of the strongest gun control laws. You might wonder if a President Trump, faced with terror attacks in Paris, would launch attacks against Muslims here. As for the “tough guy” pose as being all it takes to stop all the bad things in the world, Putin certainly strikes the strongman pose, and yet ISIS took down a Russian airliner. His solution? Bomb them to oblivion.

Obama answered “the broader issue of my critics… when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things that we’re already doing. Maybe they’re not aware that we’re already doing them. Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference — because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough. But I haven’t seen particular strategies that they would suggest that would make a real difference.

“But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.”

Does anyone else see the tragic irony that the terrorism is against tolerance, the terrorists can’t stand a society that is open, diverse in ethnicity, religion and thought, but Republicans want to dispatch intolerance with intolerance?

“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing,” President Obama said at a press conference after the G20 in Turkey. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both….

“When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion…

“And if we want to be successful at defeating ISIL, that’s a good place to start — by not promoting that kind of ideology, that kind of attitude. In the same way that the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-Western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligation as Christians. And we are — it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. And that’s what my administration intends to stand for.”

Every society is vulnerable to a terrorist determined to kill himself – but societal institutions should not be.

On the other hand, there is nothing stopping homegrown terrorism, and not just the jihadi kind. White racists have been responsible for more acts of terror here in the homeland than self-proclaimed jihadis. Look at the attacks on Planned Parenthood centers and black churches just in the last few months.

While the Republicans don’t actually offer any constructive proposals, they are really, really obsessively upset over semantics that President Obama does not brand the entirety of Muslims as terrorists- that’s about 1 billion people around the world, including whole nations that we need as our allies in defeating ISIL such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon. Obama, instead, uses terms like “violent extremists” as the enemy.

But these violent extremists no more embody Islam than Nazis embodied Christianity. These are sociopathic thugs – gangsters – who use terror and violence in order to secure power and control. It is a 21st century Facsist regime more similar to 20th century Nazi Germany. The new recruits might be swayed by propagandist ideology and even the idealism in toppling Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad – but they are being used and when some who came to fight for what they thought was a just cause want to leave, they are summarily killed.

Hindsight is 20/20. It’s so easy to say Obama should have been more aggressive in Syria early on (give weapons to so-called moderates who turned out to be ISIL?) but at that point, the opposition was saying Assad was only weeks away from being deposed. Then, when Assad crossed the “red line” using chemical weapons against his own people, Congress failed to give Obama authorization for military strikes inside Syria (Russia stepped up and got Assad to agree to get rid of chemical weapons, without Obama needing to fire a shot). Even now, Republicans are great at hurling accusations of ‘fecklessness” and “weakness” but the real coward is a Congress that refuses to debate a new Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) agreement. And I’m sure even the Bush/Cheney neocons never imagined that after almost a decade and billions of dollars and 4000 American lives, that the Iraqi soldiers would not just cut and run, but would hand over their weapons and territory to ISIL.

For his part, Obama faced a choice – without a crystal ball, he sided with the less deadly option. ISIL changed, and even now has changed its strategy from just torturing and tormenting and terrorizing people within the Middle East, to exporting terrorism internationally – downing the Russian airliner at Sharm el Sheik, the bombings in Izmir, in Beirut and now Paris, all in short order – and Obama is adapting to the changes – essentially intensifying all the levers that can be brought to bear, including bombing, strengthening border controls, sharing more intelligence, and stepping up efforts to prevent the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq. “And we’ll continue to stand with leaders in Muslim communities, including faith leaders, who are the best voices to discredit ISIL’s warped ideology,” Obama said.

Obama, in a press conference in Turkey after the G20 summit, sounded just the right tone, and also took on the critics who charge that his “strategy” lacked focus, that he underestimated the Islamic State.

“The strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground — systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia — or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them — that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue.

“And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy. And there are going to be some things that we try that don’t work; there will be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those….

“This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.

“And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason is because there are costs to the other side. I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars. And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later. It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.”

In fact, the single-minded focus on the Paris attacks (while ignoring other terror attacks that took place in Beirut, Izmir, Kenya), seemed to swallow up the news of an attack that killed the Jihadi John, who executed James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as France’s attacks on ISIL oil distribution. Meanwhile, even France’s stepped up bombing of ISIL as retribution for the Paris attacks does not equal the 8000 bombing attacks by US planes.

 

But Obama added that no matter to what extent ISIL is destroyed, that there are still going to be the risks of individuals flowing into  civil societies exacting mayhem on soft targets.

“There has been an acute awareness on the part of my administration from the start that it is possible for an organization like ISIL that has such a twisted ideology, and has shown such extraordinary brutality and complete disregard for innocent lives, that they would have the capabilities to potentially strike in the West. And because thousands of fighters have flowed from the West and are European citizens — a few hundred from the United States, but far more from Europe — that when those foreign fighters returned, it posed a significant danger. And we have consistently worked with our European partners, disrupting plots in some cases. Sadly, this one was not disrupted in time.

“But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is, is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die. And in those circumstances, tracking each individual, making sure that we are disrupting and preventing these attacks is a constant effort at vigilance, and requires extraordinary coordination.

“Now, part of the reason that it is important what we do in Iraq and Syria is that the narrative that ISIL developed of creating this caliphate makes it more attractive to potential recruits. So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria, in fact, they control less territory than they did last year. And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state, and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations. That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then, over time, will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris…

“We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they’re a state, and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state. That’s not what’s going on here.

“These are killers with fantasies of glory who are very savvy when it comes to social media, and are able to infiltrate the minds of not just Iraqis or Syrians, but disaffected individuals around the world. And when they activate those individuals, those individuals can do a lot of damage. And so we have to take the approach of being rigorous on our counterterrorism efforts, and consistently improve and figure out how we can get more information, how we can infiltrate these networks, how we can reduce their operational space, even as we also try to shrink the amount of territory they control to defeat their narrative.

“Ultimately, to reclaim territory from them is going to require, however, an ending of the Syrian civil war, which is why the diplomatic efforts are so important. And it’s going to require an effective Iraqi effort that bridges Shia and Sunni differences, which is why our diplomatic efforts inside of Iraq are so important, as well.”

But the defeat of ISIS cannot be accomplished by the US alone and as Secretary of State John Kerry noted, a coalition did not even exist a year ago, a political partnership (involving Russia and Iran) did not even exist a month ago, and now Kerry is pointing to the possibility of a cease-fire in Syria in a matter of months, and there seems to be growing acceptance of the reality that Assad has to go, and there has to be a political transition. Solving the Assad problem would rob ISIS of a key motivator to its recruitment.

“The Vienna talks mark the first time that all the key countries have come together — as a result, I would add, of American leadership — and reached a common understanding,” President Obama said. “With this weekend’s talks, there’s a path forward – negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime under the auspices of the United Nations; a transition toward a more inclusive, representative government; a new constitution, followed by free elections; and, alongside this political process, a ceasefire in the civil war, even as we continue to fight against ISIL.”

Ever the realist, Obama added, “These are obviously ambitious goals. Hopes for diplomacy in Syria have been dashed before. There are any number of ways that this latest diplomatic push could falter. And there are still disagreements between the parties, including, most critically, over the fate of Bashar Assad, who we do not believe has a role in Syria’s future because of his brutal rule. His war against the Syrian people is the primary root cause of this crisis.

“What is different this time, and what gives us some degree of hope, is that, for the first time, all the major countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war. And so while we are very clear-eyed about the very, very difficult road still head, the United States, in partnership with our coalition [Obama has mobilized 65 nations], is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.

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

Israel has Stronger Role in US-Israel Relationship, with Upsurge of Violent Extremism in Region

Ambassador Ido Aharoni of Israel at Great Neck Synagogue: "The root cause for instability in the Middle East has nothing to do with Israel-Palestinians." © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Ambassador Ido Aharoni of Israel at Great Neck Synagogue: “The root cause for instability in the Middle East has nothing to do with Israel-Palestinians.” © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin/News & Photo Features

When Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Obama earlier this month, it was their first face-to-face meeting in a year.

The meeting promised to re-set the relationship between the United States and Israel.

This includes the pragmatic realization that it is highly unlikely that a two-state solution will be achieved during the remaining time of Obama’s Administration.

“We are reassessing given the fact that the landscape is different, and that we’ve reached that conclusion,” Rob Malley, NSC Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region, said during a press call previewing the meeting. “The President has reached that conclusion that right now — baring a major shift — that the parties are not going to be in a position to negotiate a final status agreement.

“We can’t be satisfied with the status quo, so we have to find ways of making sure that the situation on the ground does not lead to confrontation, but that also we can preserve the option of the two-state solution and try to find ways to move in that direction, despite the current context.”

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, added, “the fact that we have the realistic assessment that we’re not looking at a very near-term conclusion of negotiations toward the two-state solution in no way diminishes our very fervent belief that a two-state solution is the one way to achieve the lasting peace, security and dignity that the Israeli and Palestinian people deserve.

“And frankly, it continues to be the President’s view that the urgency of moving in the direction of a two-state solution very much remains in part because of what you’re seeing in the facts on the ground, and the demography, and the development of technology, all of which complicates both the security picture and the ability to move swiftly at the appropriate time towards the achievement of a two-state solution.  Clearly, settlements, continued settlement activity complicates both the trust that is necessary to move in the direction of peace and could very practically complicate the achievement of a viable Palestinian state.”

Indeed, it was Netanyahu’s zeal to build settlements in the West Bank – even launching an initiative while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, without any prior warning – that initially caused  the strained relations between the two leaders. That was vastly compounded by Obama’s pursuit of the Iran nuclear deal.

Netanyahu has sorely tested the relationship with Obama, especially in his address to the joint sessionof Congress. This was especially foolhardy when, over its entire existence, Israel would have seemed to be totally on the receiving end of the bargain.

But the situation now has changed vastly as it has become clear that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not the primary factor in the the explosion of violence throughout the Middle East and into Africa, and the realization that the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is not really about territory.

A community rallies in support of Israel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A community rallies in support of Israel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A couple of weeks ago, there were two events in Great Neck in support of Israel: a rally brought out about 500 people from across the spectrum of the Jewish community,  to show solidarity with Israel over the uptick in terror attacks and to demand the Obama Administration hold the Palestinians accountable for incitement. The rally was followed that evening with a speech by Ambassador Ido Aharoni of Israel at Great Neck Synagogue.

“We have a simple message; Israel wants peace. Unfortunately we do not have peace or security,” Andrew Gross, political adviser to deputy consul general of Israel, declared at the rally. “We are facing an unprecedented situation, when a 13 year old Palestinian kid feels is right to kill another 13 year old Israeli boy riding bicycle. Why are Palestinian children killing? Because of a culture of hate, incitement festering in Palestinian Authority for decades.

"We have a simple message; Israel wants peace. Unfortunately we do not have peace or security," Andrew Gross, political adviser to deputy consul general of Israel, declared at the rally © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
“We have a simple message; Israel wants peace. Unfortunately we do not have peace or security,” Andrew Gross, political adviser to deputy consul general of Israel, declared at the rally © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“Let’s be clear who are the perpetrators and who the victims. The victims are Israelis, Jews and Israeli Arabs who are going about their lives. The perpetrators are Arabs who are attacking and are sometimes killed in the process. But we won’t apologize for defending ourselves….We need American support.”

Gross, who is originally from New Jersey, later told me “The international community needs to call up Palestinian Authority President Abbas to stop the incitement. Kerry has been helpful – Israel appreciates the fact he has taken time to engage.”

The violence, he said, “is a product of years and years of irresponsible leadership, fostering culture of hatred. Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

“The real question is why Abbas continues to reject offer to Netanyahu to meet with him.

Netanyahu has made clear Israel wants peace- ready to begin negotiations without preconditions.” Despite his pronouncements during his reelection campaign, and the retreat now from negotiations, Netanyahu’s official policy,” he said, “is a two state solution.”

There is more behind suspending movement toward negotiations, besides the fact that Israel has never had a honest “partner” in negotiations, and the latest upsurge in terror attacks.

It is the realization that “land for peace” will not end the Israel-Palestinian conflict. That illusion has been shattered by the Palestinian Authority’s rejection of every territorial accommodation Israel has made, going back to the Camp David Accord in 2000, the complete withdrawal from Gaza, and then the 2008, Olmert’s proposal that would have returned 100% of the territory taken in the 1967 Six Day War, only to be answered by the Palestinian leader:’ I’ll get back to you.’ And never did,” Ambassador Ido Aharoni said at the Great Neck Synagogue.

“For many years we were told that the root cause for all instability in the Middle East is Israel-Palestinian conflict, but look around Middle East, it has nothing to do with Israel-Palestinians and everything to do with two things,” Aharoni said, pointing to the 1500 year old rift between Shiites and Sunnis and the way that colonial powers sliced and diced the Middle East after World War I “completely ignoring ethnic, religious and tribal affiliations. What we are seeing now is a new region realigning itself according t o ethnic, tribal, and religious lines, and this realignment is very painful, violent, brutal.

“Syria is disintegrating..  Because of Syria vulnerability, many regional and international powers trying to put their foot on ground – Iran is heavily, now Russia is getting in. ISIS identified Syria as a fertile ground to instill Sunni pride – and all in all 20 different groups.

“It’s very confusing. In America, you used to think about confrontations between good guys and bad guys. But here’s the challenge: ISIS is killing Al Qaeda, is that good or bad? ISIS is killing Hezbollah, is that good or bad.?”

In this context, Israel has more to contribute to the US-Israel relationship than merely being on the receiving end of American largesse.

These issues were manifest during the meeting this week between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“This is going to be an opportunity for the Prime Minister and myself to engage in a wide-ranging discussion on some of the most pressing security issues that both our countries face,” President Obama said. “It’s no secret that the security environment in the Middle East has deteriorated in many areas.  And as I’ve said repeatedly, the security of Israel is one of my top foreign policy priorities.  And that has expressed itself not only in words, but in deeds.

Obama went on, “We have closer military and intelligence cooperation than any two administrations in history.  The military assistance that we provide we consider not only an important part of our obligation to the security of the state of Israel, but also an important part of U.S. security infrastructure in the region, as we make sure that one of our closest allies cannot only protect itself but can also work with us in deterring terrorism and other security threats.

“In light of what continues to be a chaotic situation in Syria, this will give us an opportunity to discuss what’s happening there.  We’ll have an opportunity to discuss how we can blunt the activities of ISIL, Hezbollah and other organizations in the region that carry out terrorist attacks…

“We’ll also have a chance to talk about how implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement is going. It’s no secret that the prime minister and I have had a strong disagreement on this narrow issue. But we don’t have a disagreement on the need to make sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, and we don’t have a disagreement about the importance of us blunting the destabilizing activities in Iran that may be taking place.”

“And we will also have an opportunity to discuss some of the concerns that both of us have around violence in the Palestinian Territories.  I want to be very clear that we condemn in the strongest terms Palestinian violence against  innocent Israeli citizens.  And I want to repeat once again, it is my strong belief that Israel has not just the right, but the obligation to protect itself.

“I also will discuss with the Prime Minister his thoughts on how we can lower the temperature between Israelis and Palestinians, how we can get back on a path towards peace, and how we can make sure that legitimate Palestinian aspirations are met through a political process, even as we make sure that Israel is able to secure itself.”

Netanyahu then stated, “We are obviously tested today in the instability and insecurity in the Middle East, as you described it.  I think everybody can see it — with the savagery of ISIS, with the aggression and terror by Iran’s proxies and by Iran itself.  And the combination of turbulence has now displaced millions of people, has butchered hundreds of thousands.  And we don’t know what will transpire.

“And I think this is a tremendously important opportunity for us to work together to see how we can defend ourselves against this aggression and this terror; how we can roll back.  It’s a daunting task.

“Equally, I want to make it clear that we have not given up our hope for peace.  We’ll never give up the hope for peace.  And I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.

“I don’t think that anyone should doubt Israel’s determination to defend itself against terror and destruction, and neither should anyone doubt Israel’s willingness to make peace with any of its neighbors that genuinely want to achieve peace with us.  And I look forward to discussing with you practical ways in which we can lower the tension, increase stability, and move towards peace.

“And finally, Mr. President, I want to thank you for your commitment to further bolstering Israel’s security in the memorandum of understanding that we’re discussing.  Israel has shouldered a tremendous defense burden over the years, and we’ve done it with the generous assistance of the United States of America.  And I want to express my appreciation to you and express the appreciation of the people of Israel to you for your efforts in this regard during our years of common service and what you’re engaging in right now — how to bolster Israel’s security, how to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge so that Israel can, as you’ve often said, defend itself, by itself, against any threat.

“So for all these reasons, I want to thank you again for your hospitality, but even more so for sustaining and strengthening the tremendous friendship and alliance between Israel and the United States of America.”

What’s significant is that the US-Israel role is less about propping up Israel, than in maintaining a vital alliance in the fight against violent Islamic extremism. It changes the dynamic from only what Israel can take from the US, to how the US can also benefit from having a strong ally in the region that for the most part, shares our value system.

But Israel still needs to be more judicious about how it struts around.

Rabbi Dale Polakoff introduced Ambassador Aharoni saying, “He has spent his career working on improving the name of Israel – the brand of Israel – throughout the world – fighting against difficult odds . He accomplished a tremendous amount.”

I have to disagree. It seems almost impossible but over the last 30 years, Israel has managed to be painted in the eyes of the world not as the victim of Arab aggression and incessant terrorism, not as the proponent of peace, willing to give up (and give back) land legitimately won and needed to provide a security rim, in exchange for security, but has become the aggressor, the occupier.

Here in America, we have to fight with our own liberals and progressives who inexplicably have taken up the cause of the Palestinians as a pathetic, impoverished people.

It is very disturbing that the National Press Club in Washington DC will be the venue for a day-long conference “Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?”  co-sponsored by the American Educational Trust, publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy.

Timed to take place two days before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) holds its annual policy conference, “keynote speakers will analyze the enormous impact Israel’s influence has on Congress, establishment media, academia and other major institutions. They will explore the costs and benefits in terms of foreign aid and covert intelligence, foreign policy, America’s regional and global standing, and unbiased news reporting.”

The group goes on to note, “American taxpayers provide Israel with more than $3.1 billion annually in military aid. Since 1948 Israel has received far more than any other country, despite polls showing that most Americans oppose such aid. Israel and its U.S. supporters are now lobbying for a $1 billion increase–to $4.5 billion yearly–as ‘compensation’ for the recently concluded nuclear deal with Iran, despite Israel and its lobby’s overt attempts to prevent it..

“In 2001 Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who characterized the 9/11 attacks on America as “good” for Israel, stated, ‘I know what America is.  America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.’

“The lobby in charge of moving America is vast and powerful. It will raise and spend another estimated $4.1 billion in 2016 charitable contributions to indirectly subsidize Israeli institutions such as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), finance U.S. Israel advocacy, lobby local, state and federal officials, and support Israel-centric “education” programs.

The notice goes on to state, “Some of this ‘education’ supports pro-Israel programs in schools, colleges and universities. It also covers training federal and local law enforcement officials to focus on American Muslim and Arab communities as potential terrorist and ‘violent extremist’ threats.”

This is what Israel needs to contend with, and why it is important for Israel to demonstrate that it isn’t just taking from the United States, but now occupies a key place in this global crisis.

The reason for this is laid on pervasive anti-Semitism and The Media which is an agent of anti-Semitism.

In fact, Netanyahu has been a disaster for Israel’s image in the world, and provided fuel to progressives’ fire.

Look at who he has put forth as (believe it or not), Israel’s public diplomacy chief Ran Baratz, who actually posted in social media that Obama was Anti-Semitic, that Secretary of State John Kerry had the intellect of a preteenager. (“Filling a Top Post, Netanyahu Reconsiders Nominee Who Insulted Obama,” NY Times, Nov. 6)

It’s one thing to have such a man among your advisers, but to have him as the “face” of Israel in the world? A diplomat to be so extraordinarily undiplomatic?

Aharoni talked about Israel’s “brand.” It is significantly in need of improvement.

Israel must depend more than ever on the United States as its singular ally of any substance in the world, continually fending off efforts to delegitimize Israel’s existence.

“This administration has repeatedly stood up against the delegitimization of Israel, including under Secretary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, with respect to the Goldstone report, with respect to the response to the incident with the flotilla that was trying to reach Gaza,” Rhodes said. “And in the aftermath of that tenure, under Secretary Kerry at the State Department, we’ve continued to stand up against efforts to delegitimize Israel, including through BDS.  So there’s been a very consistent diplomatic effort by this administration at various international fora to oppose one-sided efforts to single out Israel or to delegitimize Israel in any way.”

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