politics

President’s “Bound To Be True Speech” on Health Care

Full Text of President’s Message to House Democrats today

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Everybody, please have a seat.

To Leader Reid, to Steny Hoyer, John Larson, Xavier Becerra, Jim Clyburn, Chris Van Hollen, to an extraordinary leader and extraordinary Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and to all the members here today, thank you very much for having me. (Applause.) Thanks for having me and thanks for your tireless efforts waged on behalf of health insurance reform in this country.

I have the great pleasure of having a really nice library at the White House. And I was tooling through some of the writings of some previous Presidents and I came upon this quote by Abraham Lincoln: “I am not bound to win, but I’m bound to be true. I’m not bound to succeed, but I’m bound to live up to what light I have.”

This debate has been a difficult debate. This process has been a difficult process. And this year has been a difficult year for the American people. When I was sworn in, we were in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Eight hundred thousand people per month were losing their jobs. Millions of people were losing their health insurance. And the financial system was on the verge of collapse.

And this body has taken on some of the toughest votes and some of the toughest decisions in the history of Congress. Not because you were bound to win, but because you were bound to be true. Because each and every one of you made a decision that at a moment of such urgency, it was less important to measure what the polls said than to measure what was right.

A year later, we’re in different circumstances. Because of the actions that you’ve taken, the financial system has stabilized. The stock market has stabilized. Businesses are starting to invest again. The economy, instead of contracting, is now growing again. There are signs that people are going to start hiring again. There’s still tremendous hardship all across the country, but there is a sense that we are making progress — because of you.

But even before this crisis, each and every one of us knew that there were millions of people across America who were living their own quiet crises. Maybe because they had a child who had a preexisting condition and no matter how desperate they were, no matter what insurance company they called, they couldn’t get coverage for that child. Maybe it was somebody who had been forced into early retirement, in their 50s not yet eligible for Medicare, and they couldn’t find a job and they couldn’t find health insurance, despite the fact that they had some sort of chronic condition that had to be tended to.

Every single one of you at some point before you arrived in Congress and after you arrived in Congress have met constituents with heart-breaking stories. And you’ve looked them in the eye and you’ve said, we’re going to do something about it — that’s why I want to go to Congress.

And now, we’re on the threshold of doing something about it. We’re a day away. After a year of debate, after every argument has been made, by just about everybody, we’re 24 hours away.

As some of you know, I’m not somebody who spends a lot of time surfing the cable channels, but I’m not completely in the bubble. I have a sense of what the coverage has been, and mostly it’s an obsession with “What will this mean for the Democratic Party? What will this mean for the President’s polls? How will this play out in November? Is this good or is this bad for the Democratic majority? What does it mean for those swing districts?”

And I noticed that there’s been a lot of friendly advice offered all across town. (Laughter.) Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Karl Rove — they’re all warning you of the horrendous impact if you support this legislation. Now, it could be that they are suddenly having a change of heart and they are deeply concerned about their Democratic friends. (Laughter.) They are giving you the best possible advice in order to assure that Nancy Pelosi remains Speaker and Harry Reid remains Leader and that all of you keep your seats. That’s a possibility. (Laughter.)

But it may also be possible that they realize after health reform passes and I sign that legislation into law, that it’s going to be a little harder to mischaracterize what this effort has been all about.

Because this year, small businesses will start getting tax credits so that they can offer health insurance to employees who currently don’t have it. (Applause.) Because this year, those same parents who are worried about getting coverage for their children with preexisting conditions now are assured that insurance companies have to give them coverage — this year. (Applause.)

Because this year, insurance companies won’t suddenly be able to drop your coverage when you get sick — (applause) — or impose lifetime limits or restrictive limits on the coverage that you have. Maybe they know that this year, for the first time, young people will be able to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26 years old and they’re thinking that just might be popular all across the country. (Applause.)

And what they also know is what won’t happen. They know that after this legislation passes and after I sign this bill, lo and behold nobody is pulling the plug on Granny. (Laughter.) It turns out that in fact people who like their health insurance are going to be able to keep their health insurance; that there’s no government takeover. People will discover that if they like their doctor, they’ll be keeping their doctor. In fact, they’re more likely to keep their doctor because of a stronger system.

It’ll turn out that this piece of historic legislation is built on the private insurance system that we have now and runs straight down the center of American political thought. It turns out this is a bill that tracks the recommendations not just of Democrat Tom Daschle, but also Republicans Bob Dole and Howard Baker; that this is a middle-of-the-road bill that is designed to help the American people in an area of their lives where they urgently need help.

Now, there are some who wanted a single-payer government-run system. That’s not this bill. The Republicans wanted what I called the “foxes guard the henhouse approach” in which we further deregulate the insurance companies and let them run wild, the notion being somehow that that was going to lower costs for the American people. I don’t know a serious health care economist who buys that idea, but that was their concept. And we rejected that, because what we said was we want to create a system in which health care is working not for insurance companies but it’s working for the American people, it’s working for middle class families.

So what did we do? What is the essence of this legislation? Number one, this is the toughest insurance reforms in history. (Applause.) We are making sure that the system of private insurance works for ordinary families. A prescription — this is a patient’s bill of rights on steroids. So many of you individually have worked on these insurance reforms — they are in this package — to make sure that families are getting a fair deal; that if they’re paying a premium, that they’re getting a good service in return; making sure that employers, if they are paying premiums for their employees, that their employees are getting the coverage that they expect; that insurance companies are not going to game the system with fine print and rescissions and dropping people when they need it most, but instead are going to have to abide by some basic rules of the road that exemplify a sense of fairness and good value. That’s number one.

The second thing this does is it creates a pool, a marketplace, where individuals and small businesses, who right now are having a terrible time out there getting health insurance, are going to be able to purchase health insurance as part of a big group — just like federal employees, just like members of Congress. They are now going to be part of a pool that can negotiate for better rates, better quality, more competition.

And that’s why the Congressional Budget Office says this will lower people’s rates for comparable plans by 14 to 20 percent. That’s not my numbers — that’s the Congressional Budget Office’s numbers. So that people will have choice and competition just like members of Congress have choice and competition.

Number three, if people still can’t afford it we’re going to provide them some tax credits — the biggest tax cut for small businesses and working families when it comes to health care in history. (Applause.)

And number four, this is the biggest reduction in our deficit since the Budget Balance Act — one of the biggest deficit reduction measures in history — over $1.3 trillion that will help put us on the path of fiscal responsibility. (Applause.)

And that’s before we count all the game-changing measures that are going to assure, for example, that instead of having five tests when you go to the doctor you just get one; that the delivery system is working for patients, not just working for billings. And everybody who’s looked at it says that every single good idea to bend the cost curve and start actually reducing health care costs are in this bill.

So that’s what this effort is all about. Toughest insurance reforms in history. A marketplace so people have choice and competition who right now don’t have it and are seeing their premiums go up 20, 30, 40, 50 percent. Reductions in the cost of health care for millions of American families, including those who have health insurance. The Business Roundtable did their own study and said that this would potentially save employers $3,000 per employee on their health care because of the measures in this legislation.

And by the way, not only does it reduce the deficit — we pay for it responsibly in ways that the other side of the aisle that talks a lot about fiscal responsibility but doesn’t seem to be able to walk the walk can’t claim when it comes to their prescription drug bill. We are actually doing it. (Applause.) This is paid for and will not add a dime to the deficit — it will reduce the deficit. (Applause.)

Now, is this bill perfect? Of course not. Will this solve every single problem in our health care system right away? No. There are all kinds of ideas that many of you have that aren’t included in this legislation. I know that there has been discussion, for example, of how we’re going to deal with regional disparities and I know that there was a meeting with Secretary Sebelius to assure that we can continue to try to make sure that we’ve got a system that gives people the best bang for their buck. (Applause.)

So this is not — there are all kinds of things that many of you would like to see that isn’t in this legislation. There are some things I’d like to see that’s not in this legislation. But is this the single most important step that we have taken on health care since Medicare? Absolutely. Is this the most important piece of domestic legislation in terms of giving a break to hardworking middle class families out there since Medicare? Absolutely. Is this a vast improvement over the status quo? Absolutely.

Now, I still know this is a tough vote, though. I know this is a tough vote. I’ve talked to many of you individually. And I have to say that if you honestly believe in your heart of hearts, in your conscience, that this is not an improvement over the status quo; if despite all the information that’s out there that says that without serious reform efforts like this one people’s premiums are going to double over the next five or 10 years, that folks are going to keep on getting letters from their insurance companies saying that their premium just went up 40 or 50 percent; if you think that somehow it’s okay that we have millions of hardworking Americans who can’t get health care and that it’s all right, it’s acceptable, in the wealthiest nation on Earth that there are children with chronic illnesses that can’t get the care that they need — if you think that the system is working for ordinary Americans rather than the insurance companies, then you should vote no on this bill. If you can honestly say that, then you shouldn’t support it. You’re here to represent your constituencies and if you think your constituencies honestly wouldn’t be helped, you shouldn’t vote for this.

But if you agree that the system is not working for ordinary families, if you’ve heard the same stories that I’ve heard everywhere, all across the country, then help us fix this system. Don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid. Do it for all those people out there who are struggling.

Some of you know I get 10 letters a day that I read out of the 40,000 that we receive. Started reading some of the ones that I got this morning. “Dear President Obama, my daughter, a wonderful person, lost her job. She has no health insurance. She had a blood clot in her brain. She’s now disabled, can’t get care.” “Dear President Obama, I don’t yet qualify for Medicare. COBRA is about to run out. I am desperate, don’t know what to do.”

Do it for them. Do it for people who are really scared right now through no fault of their own, who’ve played by the rules, who’ve done all the right things, and have suddenly found out that because of an accident, because of an ailment, they’re about to lose their house; or they can’t provide the help to their kids that they need; or they’re a small business who up until now has always taken pride in providing care for their workers and it turns out that they just can’t afford to do it anymore and they’ve having to make a decision about do I keep providing health insurance for my workers or do I just drop their coverage or do I not hire some people because I simply can’t afford it — it’s all being gobbled up by the insurance companies.

Don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for the Democratic Party. Do it for the American people. They’re the ones who are looking for action right now. (Applause.)

I know this is a tough vote. And I am actually confident — I’ve talked to some of you individually — that it will end up being the smart thing to do politically because I believe that good policy is good politics. (Applause.) I am convinced that when you go out there and you are standing tall and you are saying I believe that this is the right thing to do for my constituents and the right thing to do for America, that ultimately the truth will out.

I had a wonderful conversation with Betsy Markey. I don’t know if Betsy is around here. There she is right there. (Applause.) Betsy is in a tough district. The biggest newspaper is somewhat conservative, as Betsy described. They weren’t real happy with health care reform. They were opposed to it. Betsy, despite the pressure, announced that she was in favor of this bill. And lo and behold, the next day that same newspaper runs an editorial saying, you know what, we’ve considered this, we’ve looked at the legislation, and we actually are pleased that Congresswoman Markey is supporting the legislation. (Applause.)

When I see John Boccieri stand up proud with a whole bunch of his constituencies — (applause) — in as tough a district as there is and stand up with a bunch of folks from his district with preexisting conditions and saying, you know, I don’t know what is going on Washington but I know what’s going on with these families — I look at him with pride.

Now, I can’t guarantee that this is good politics. Every one of you know your districts better than I do. You talk to folks. You’re under enormous pressure. You’re getting robocalls. You’re getting e-mails that are tying up the communications system. I know the pressure you’re under. I get a few comments made about me. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. (Laughter.) I’ve been in your shoes. I know what it’s like to take a tough vote.

But what did Lincoln say? “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.” Two generations ago, folks who were sitting in your position, they made a decision — we are going to make sure that seniors and the poor have health care coverage that they can count on. And they did the right thing.

And I’m sure at the time they were making that vote, they weren’t sure how the politics were either, any more than the people who made the decision to make sure that Social Security was in place knew how the politics would play out, or folks who passed the civil rights acts knew how the politics were going to play out. They were not bound to win, but they were bound to be true.

And now we’ve got middle class Americans, don’t have Medicare, don’t have Medicaid, watching the employer-based system fray along the edges or being caught in terrible situations. And the question is, are we going to be true to them?

Sometimes I think about how I got involved in politics. I didn’t think of myself as a potential politician when I get out of college. I went to work in neighborhoods, working with Catholic churches in poor neighborhoods in Chicago, trying to figure out how people could get a little bit of help. And I was skeptical about politics and politicians, just like a lot of Americans are skeptical about politics and politicians are right now. Because my working assumption was when push comes to shove, all too often folks in elected office, they’re looking for themselves and not looking out for the folks who put them there; that there are too many compromises; that the special interests have too much power; they just got too much clout; there’s too much big money washing around.

And I decided finally to get involved because I realized if I wasn’t willing to step up and be true to the things I believe in, then the system wouldn’t change. Every single one of you had that same kind of moment at the beginning of your careers. Maybe it was just listening to stories in your neighborhood about what was happening to people who’d been laid off of work. Maybe it was your own family experience, somebody got sick and didn’t have health care and you said something should change.

Something inspired you to get involved, and something inspired you to be a Democrat instead of running as a Republican. Because somewhere deep in your heart you said to yourself, I believe in an America in which we don’t just look out for ourselves, that we don’t just tell people you’re on your own, that we are proud of our individualism, we are proud of our liberty, but we also have a sense of neighborliness and a sense of community — (applause) — and we are willing to look out for one another and help people who are vulnerable and help people who are down on their luck and give them a pathway to success and give them a ladder into the middle class. That’s why you decided to run. (Applause.)

And now a lot of us have been here a while and everybody here has taken their lumps and their bruises. And it turns out people have had to make compromises, and you’ve been away from families for a long time and you’ve missed special events for your kids sometimes. And maybe there have been times where you asked yourself, why did I ever get involved in politics in the first place? And maybe things can’t change after all. And when you do something courageous, it turns out sometimes you may be attacked. And sometimes the very people you thought you were trying to help may be angry at you and shout at you. And you say to yourself, maybe that thing that I started with has been lost.

But you know what? Every once in a while, every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made in all those town meetings and all those constituency breakfasts and all that traveling through the district, all those people who you looked in the eye and you said, you know what, you’re right, the system is not working for you and I’m going to make it a little bit better.

And this is one of those moments. This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, doggone it, this is exactly why I came here. This is why I got into politics. This is why I got into public service. This is why I’ve made those sacrifices. Because I believe so deeply in this country and I believe so deeply in this democracy and I’m willing to stand up even when it’s hard, even when it’s tough.

Every single one of you have made that promise not just to your constituents but to yourself. And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine. We have been debating health care for decades. It has now been debated for a year. It is in your hands. It is time to pass health care reform for America, and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow.

Thank you very much, House of Representatives. Let’s get this done. (Applause.

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COMMENT ON: Gibbs Fires Back At Chief Justice Roberts Over Obama Criticism

Justice Rpberts is clearly not content to let well enough alone. If the President treaded in an unseemly way by calling out the Court in his State of the Union. the Chief Justice has every right to yeil back all he wants. But when the substance of the yell is that the president is unseemly, one can only laugh. It is the Chief Justice who is being unseemly by dragging the court even deeper into disrepute. The partisan nature of the Chief Justice is in full view. I suspect he may have been counselled by the usual suspects.

It is more and more obvious that the Obama Presidency, to achieve long term objectives, needs a solid eight years and a Congress that will stand up to the Court and enact the Obama agenda. The next months should be devoted to finding decent candidates to run against the folk in Congress who helped to ensure the Court’s conservative (I would say radical and pre-totalitarian) majority.

This conflict is not new. Check out FDR’s relationship with the Court. Reform is hard won in this country but well worth the battle.

Read the Article this comment refers to at Huffington Post

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Complete Text President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Address

INCIDENTALLY: Here is a preliminary for this speech — at least in some respects.

Your majesties, your royal highnesses, distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations — that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women — some known, some obscure to all but those they help — to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the commander in chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by forty-three other countries — including Norway — in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict — filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

These questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease — the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers, clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a “just war” emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: If it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the forced used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

For most of history, this concept of just war was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations — total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it is hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.
In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another World War. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations — an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize — America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide and restrict the most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty, self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.

A decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states; have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today’s wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sewn, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed and children scarred.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago — “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.

Yet the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another — that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths — that war is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human feelings. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. “Let us focus,” he said, “on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.”

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?

To begin with, I believe that all nations — strong and weak alike — must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates — and weakens — those who don’t.

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait — a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don’t, our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention — no matter how justified.

This becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

America’s commitment to global security will never waiver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.

The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries — and other friends and allies — demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they have shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular. But I also know this: the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That is why NATO continues to be indispensable.

That is why we must strengthen UN and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That is why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali — we honor them not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace.

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant — the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.

I have spoken to the questions that must weigh on our minds and our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me turn now to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior — for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure — and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: all will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work toward disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I am working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia’s nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur; systematic rape in Congo; or repression in Burma — there must be consequences. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.

This brings me to a second point — the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.

And yet all too often, these words are ignored. In some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation’s development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists — a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values.

I reject this choice. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America’s interests — nor the world’s –are served by the denial of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear to these movements that hope and history are on their side

Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach — and condemnation without discussion — can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable — and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty, and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul’s engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan’s efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There is no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.

Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights — it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

And that is why helping farmers feed their own people — or nations educate their children and care for the sick — is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action — it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.

Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All of these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power, to complete this work without something more — and that is the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share.

As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are; to understand that we all basically want the same things; that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families.

And yet, given the dizzying pace of globalization, and the cultural leveling of modernity, it should come as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular identities — their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we are moving backwards. We see it in Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint — no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one’s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith — for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The nonviolence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached — their faith in human progress — must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith — if we dismiss it as silly or naive; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace — then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”

So let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he’s outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protester awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

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politics, theology

President Obama’s Fort Hood Speech — Full Text

We come together filled with sorrow for the thirteen Americans that we have lost; with gratitude for the lives that they led; and with a determination to honor them through the work we carry on.

This is a time of war. And yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here, on American soil, in the heart of this great American community. It is this fact that makes the tragedy even more painful and even more incomprehensible.

For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void that has been left. We knew these men and women as soldiers and caregivers. You knew them as mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; sisters and brothers.

But here is what you must also know: your loved ones endure through the life of our nation. Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched. Their life’s work is our security, and the freedom that we too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that is their legacy.

Neither this country – nor the values that we were founded upon – could exist without men and women like these thirteen Americans. And that is why we must pay tribute to their stories.

Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cahill had served in the National Guard and worked as a physician’s assistant for decades. A husband and father of three, he was so committed to his patients that on the day he died, he was back at work just weeks after having a heart attack.

Major Libardo Eduardo Caraveo spoke little English when he came to America as a teenager. But he put himself through college, earned a PhD, and was helping combat units cope with the stress of deployment. He is survived by his wife, sons and step-daughters.

Staff Sergeant Justin DeCrow joined the Army right after high school, married his high school sweetheart, and had served as a light wheeled mechanic and Satellite Communications Operator. He was known as an optimist, a mentor, and a loving husband and father.

After retiring from the Army as a Major, John Gaffaney cared for society’s most vulnerable during two decades as a psychiatric nurse. He spent three years trying to return to active duty in this time of war, and he was preparing to deploy to Iraq as a Captain. He leaves behind a wife and son.

Specialist Frederick Greene was a Tennessean who wanted to join the Army for a long time, and did so in 2008 with the support of his family. As a combat engineer he was a natural leader, and he is survived by his wife and two daughters.

Specialist Jason Hunt was also recently married, with three children to care for. He joined the Army after high school. He did a tour in Iraq, and it was there that he re-enlisted for six more years on his 21st birthday so that he could continue to serve.

Staff Sergeant Amy Krueger was an athlete in high school, joined the Army shortly after 9/11, and had since returned home to speak to students about her experience. When her mother told her she couldn’t take on Osama bin Laden by herself, Amy replied: “Watch me.”

Private First Class Aaron Nemelka was an Eagle Scout who just recently signed up to do one of the most dangerous jobs in the service – diffuse bombs – so that he could help save lives. He was proudly carrying on a tradition of military service that runs deep within his family.

Private First Class Michael Pearson loved his family and loved his music, and his goal was to be a music teacher. He excelled at playing the guitar, and could create songs on the spot and show others how to play. He joined the military a year ago, and was preparing for his first deployment.

Captain Russell Seager worked as a nurse for the VA, helping veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress. He had great respect for the military, and signed up to serve so that he could help soldiers cope with the stress of combat and return to civilian life. He leaves behind a wife and son.

Private Francheska Velez, the daughter of a father from Colombia and a Puerto Rican mother, had recently served in Korea and in Iraq, and was pursuing a career in the Army. When she was killed, she was pregnant with her first child, and was excited about becoming a mother.

Lieutenant Colonel Juanita Warman was the daughter and granddaughter of Army veterans. She was a single mother who put herself through college and graduate school, and served as a nurse practitioner while raising her two daughters. She also left behind a loving husband.

Private First Class Kham Xiong came to America from Thailand as a small child. He was a husband and father who followed his brother into the military because his family had a strong history of service. He was preparing for his first deployment to Afghanistan.

These men and women came from all parts of the country. Some had long careers in the military. Some had signed up to serve in the shadow of 9/11. Some had known intense combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some cared for those did. Their lives speak to the strength, the dignity and the decency of those who serve, and that is how they will be remembered.

That same spirit is embodied in the community here at Fort Hood, and in the many wounded who are still recovering. In those terrible minutes during the attack, soldiers made makeshift tourniquets out of their clothes. They braved gunfire to reach the wounded, and ferried them to safety in the backs of cars and a pick-up truck.

One young soldier, Amber Bahr, was so intent on helping others that she did not realize for some time that she, herself, had been shot in the back. Two police officers – Mark Todd and Kim Munley – saved countless lives by risking their own. One medic – Francisco de la Serna – treated both Officer Munley and the gunman who shot her.

It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know – no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. And for what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice – in this world, and the next.

These are trying times for our country. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the same extremists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans continue to endanger America, our allies, and innocent Afghans and Pakistanis. In Iraq, we are working to bring a war to a successful end, as there are still those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much for.

As we face these challenges, the stories of those at Fort Hood reaffirm the core values that we are fighting for, and the strength that we must draw upon. Theirs are tales of American men and women answering an extraordinary call – the call to serve their comrades, their communities, and their country. In an age of selfishness, they embody responsibility. In an era of division, they call upon us to come together. In a time of cynicism, they remind us of who we are as Americans.

We are a nation that endures because of the courage of those who defend it. We saw that valor in those who braved bullets here at Fort Hood, just as surely as we see it in those who signed up knowing that they would serve in harm’s way.

We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes.

We are a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses. And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln’s words, and always pray to be on the side of God.

We are a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal. We live that truth within our military, and see it in the varied backgrounds of those we lay to rest today. We defend that truth at home and abroad, and we know that Americans will always be found on the side of liberty and equality. That is who we are as a people.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. It is a chance to pause, and to pay tribute – for students to learn of the struggles that preceded them; for families to honor the service of parents and grandparents; for citizens to reflect upon the sacrifices that have been made in pursuit of a more perfect union.

For history is filled with heroes. You may remember the stories of a grandfather who marched across Europe; an uncle who fought in Vietnam; a sister who served in the Gulf. But as we honor the many generations who have served, I think all of us – every single American – must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who have come before.

We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes.

This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in a time of certain danger. They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places. They have stood watch in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains. They have extended the opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war. They are man and woman; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and stations – all Americans, serving together to protect our people, while giving others half a world away the chance to lead a better life.

In today’s wars, there is not always a simple ceremony that signals our troops’ success – no surrender papers to be signed, or capital to be claimed. But the measure of their impact is no less great – in a world of threats that no know borders, it will be marked in the safety of our cities and towns, and the security and opportunity that is extended abroad. And it will serve as testimony to the character of those who serve, and the example that you set for America and for the world.

Here, at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to thirteen men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war, even in the comfort of home. Later today, at Fort Lewis, one community will gather to remember so many in one Stryker Brigade who have fallen in Afghanistan.

Long after they are laid to rest – when the fighting has finished, and our nation has endured; when today’s servicemen and women are veterans, and their children have grown – it will be said of this generation that they believed under the most trying of tests; that they persevered not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; and that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.

So we say goodbye to those who now belong to eternity. We press ahead in pursuit of the peace that guided their service. May God bless the memory of those we lost. And may God bless the United States of America.

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politics

President Obama’s War With The United States

This probably sounds like a candidate for wingnut headline of the day. A story about how the President plans to do everyone in because he is the ultimate subverter of our traditions and way of life.

But my purpose is to suggest that the current Afpak business does not really pit the President against the world’s terrorists as much as it pits him against our sorry past. I am talking about the past that was decreed the minute we institutionalized our WW2-justified impunity and morphed it into the clandestine reality of the Cold War.

I believe it is time to demythologize this venture and call it what it was — an exaggerated sense of global danger that traded an uneasy security for a vicious and demeaning military-industrial venture into global violence and the prodigal sacrifice of American lives and resources.

When I was a child, the violence of media tended to have a humorous distance built in. As in the adventures of Superman and such. Now the cultural expressions of violence are so pervasive that they are an exercise in special effects that reflect our own passivity in the face of shock and awe.

The President cannot act in Afghanistan without engaging in a real war with the hold that Cold War mythology continues to exert. The myth persists. Even though it was never as stated, save in the way both sides played necessary parts and wasted time and treasure creating the mutually assured destruction that gave it its substance.

I am not saying that realpolitik is not real. I am saying that when it shades into a world where impunity, the power that corrupts absolutely, is permitted, then we have this world, the world of a culture filled with everything needed to defeat reasonable action and measured response. There is tangible power behind institutions which are the instruments of the jaws of hell. It is the power and fascination with unbridled improvements on the weapons of destruction, the means of murder, the modes of reification and the mentality of permanent war.

I firmly believe that the President was given his opportunity precisely because there is an ever so slight chance that the balance can tip toward reason. But it cannot do so without a willingness to work through a battle plan for lifting from the vision of the United States the blinders put there by the Dulles Brothers and others who gave birth to the present era.

Obama is appointed, I believe, to show how true toughness lies in respecting ourselves enough to have the courage to deny impunity to all who would seize it. I know that in the human rights world impunity is a term so widely used that it begins to lack meaning.

Very simply impunity is whatever enables a person possessing power to exert his/her will physically’spiritually over another. Whether in a household, a town, a nation. Wherever. Impunity compromises the right of every human being to have his or her No respected and honored. Impunity makes power the measure of all things. Because it is always unbridled, it is the absolute corruption.

The President has intelligently bought some time in Afghanistan. But the time will be ill-used if he does not work with Joe Biden and others to confront the real fault, the fault not in our stars but in ourselves. When this is done. whatever we do in Afghanistan will have a purpose that would never be served if this underlying battle went begging to be understood.

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politics

President Obama’s NAACP Speech — FULL TEXT

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO THE NAACP CENTENNIAL CONVENTION

Hilton New York
New York, New York

7:00 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:   Thank you.  What an extraordinary night, capping off an extraordinary week, capping off an extraordinary 100 years at the NAACP.  (Applause.)

So Chairman Bond, Brother Justice, I am so grateful to all of you for being here.  It’s just good to be among friends.  (Applause.)

It is an extraordinary honor to be here, in the city where the NAACP was formed, to mark its centennial.  What we celebrate tonight is not simply the journey the NAACP has traveled, but the journey that we, as Americans, have traveled over the past 100 years.  (Applause.)

It’s a journey that takes us back to a time before most of us were born, long before the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education; back to an America just a generation past slavery.  It was a time when Jim Crow was a way of life; when lynchings were all too common; when race riots were shaking cities across a segregated land.

It was in this America where an Atlanta scholar named W.E.B. Du Bois — (applause) — a man of towering intellect and a fierce passion for justice, sparked what became known as the Niagara movement; where reformers united, not by color, but by cause; where an association was born that would, as its charter says, promote equality and eradicate prejudice among citizens of the United States.

From the beginning, these founders understood how change would come — just as King and all the civil rights giants did later.  They understood that unjust laws needed to be overturned; that legislation needed to be passed; and that Presidents needed to be pressured into action.  They knew that the stain of slavery and the sin of segregation had to be lifted in the courtroom, and in the legislature, and in the hearts and the minds of Americans.

They also knew that here, in America, change would have to come from the people.  It would come from people protesting lynchings, rallying against violence, all those women who decided to walk instead of taking the bus, even though they were tired after a long day of doing somebody else’s laundry, looking after somebody else’s children.  (Applause.)  It would come from men and women of every age and faith, and every race and region — taking Greyhounds on Freedom Rides; sitting down at Greensboro lunch counters; registering voters in rural Mississippi, knowing they would be harassed, knowing they would be beaten, knowing that some of them might never return.

Because of what they did, we are a more perfect union.  Because Jim Crow laws were overturned, black CEOs today run Fortune 500 companies.  (Applause.)  Because civil rights laws were passed, black mayors, black governors, and members of Congress served in places where they might once have been able [sic] not just to vote but even take a sip of water.  And because ordinary people did such extraordinary things, because they made the civil rights movement their own, even though there may not be a plaque or their names might not be in the history books — because of their efforts I made a little trip to Springfield, Illinois, a couple years ago — (applause) — where Lincoln once lived, and race riots once raged — and began the journey that has led me to be here tonight as the 44th President of the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Because of them I stand here tonight, on the shoulders of giants.  And I’m here to say thank you to those pioneers and thank you to the NAACP.  (Applause.)

And yet, even as we celebrate the remarkable achievements of the past 100 years; even as we inherit extraordinary progress that cannot be denied; even as we marvel at the courage and determination of so many plain folk — we know that too many barriers still remain.

We know that even as our economic crisis batters Americans of all races, African Americans are out of work more than just about anybody else — a gap that’s widening here in New York City, as a detailed report this week by Comptroller Bill Thompson laid out.  (Applause.)

We know that even as spiraling health care costs crush families of all races, African Americans are more likely to suffer from a host of diseases but less likely to own health insurance than just about anybody else.

We know that even as we imprison more people of all races than any nation in the world, an African American child is roughly five times as likely as a white child to see the inside of a prison.

We know that even as the scourge of HIV/AIDS devastates nations abroad, particularly in Africa, it is devastating the African American community here at home with disproportionate force.  We know these things.  (Applause.)

These are some of the barriers of our time.  They’re very different from the barriers faced by earlier generations.  They’re very different from the ones faced when fire hoses and dogs were being turned on young marchers; when Charles Hamilton Houston and a group of young Howard lawyers were dismantling segregation case by case across the land.

But what’s required today — what’s required to overcome today’s barriers is the same as what was needed then.  The same commitment.  The same sense of urgency.  The same sense of sacrifice.  The same sense of community.  The same willingness to do our part for ourselves and one another that has always defined America at its best and the African American experience at its best.  (Applause.)

And so the question is, where do we direct our efforts?  What steps do we take to overcome these barriers?  How do we move forward in the next 100 years?

The first thing we need to do is make real the words of the NAACP charter and eradicate prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination among citizens of the United States.  (Applause.)  I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem in 2009.  And I believe that overall, there probably has never been less discrimination in America than there is today.  I think we can say that.

But make no mistake:  The pain of discrimination is still felt in America.  (Applause.)  By African American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and a different gender.  (Laughter.)  By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country.  (Applause.)  By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion simply because they kneel down to pray to their God.  (Applause.)  By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.  (Applause.)

On the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination cannot stand — not on account of color or gender; how you worship or who you love.  Prejudice has no place in the United States of America.  That’s what the NAACP stands for.  That’s what the NAACP will continue to fight for as long as it takes.  (Applause.)

But we also know that prejudice and discrimination — at least the most blatant types of prejudice and discrimination — are not even the steepest barriers to opportunity today.  The most difficult barriers include structural inequalities that our nation’s legacy of discrimination has left behind; inequalities still plaguing too many communities and too often the object of national neglect.

These are barriers we are beginning to tear down one by one — by rewarding work with an expanded tax credit; by making housing more affordable; by giving ex-offenders a second chance.  (Applause.)  These are barriers we’re targeting through our White House Office on Urban Affairs, through programs like Promise Neighborhoods that builds on Geoffrey Canada’s success with the Harlem Children’s Zone — (applause) — that foster a comprehensive approach to ending poverty by putting all children on a pathway to college, and giving them the schooling and after-school support that they need to get there.  (Applause.)

I think all of us understand that our task of reducing these structural inequalities has been made more difficult by the state and structure of our broader economy; an economy that for the last decade has been fueled by a cycle of boom and bust; an economy where the rich got really, really rich, but ordinary folks didn’t see their incomes or their wages go up; an economy built on credit cards, shady mortgage loans; an economy built not on a rock, but on sand.

That’s why my administration is working so hard not only to create and save jobs in the short-term, not only to extend unemployment insurance and help for people who have lost their health care in this crisis, not just to stem the immediate economic wreckage, but to lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity that will put opportunity within the reach of not just African Americans, but all Americans.  All Americans.  (Applause.)  Of every race.  Of every creed.  From every region of the country.  (Applause.)  We want everybody to participate in the American Dream.  That’s what the NAACP is all about.  (Applause.)

Now, one pillar of this new foundation is health insurance for everybody.  (Applause.)  Health insurance reform that cuts costs and makes quality health coverage affordable for all, and it closes health care disparities in the process.  Another pillar is energy reform that makes clean energy profitable, freeing America from the grip of foreign oil; putting young people to work upgrading low-income homes, weatherizing, and creating jobs that can’t be outsourced.  Another pillar is financial reform with consumer protections to crackdown on mortgage fraud and stop predatory lenders from targeting black and Latino communities all across the country.  (Applause.)

All these things will make America stronger and more competitive.  They will drive innovation, they will create jobs, they will provide families with more security.  And yet, even if we do all that, the African American community will still fall behind in the United States and the United States will fall behind in the world unless we do a far better job than we have been doing of educating our sons and daughters.  (Applause.)

I hope you don’t mind — I want to go into a little detail here about education.  (Applause.)  In the 21st century — when so many jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or more, when countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow — a world-class education is a prerequisite for success.

There’s no two ways about it.  There’s no way to avoid it.  You know what I’m talking about.  There’s a reason the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools.  There’s a reason Thurgood Marshall took up the cause of Linda Brown.  There’s a reason why the Little Rock Nine defied a governor and a mob.  It’s because there is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God-given potential.  (Applause.)

And yet, more than half a century after Brown v. Board, the dream of a world-class education is still being deferred all across the country.  African American students are lagging behind white classmates in reading and math — an achievement gap that is growing in states that once led the way in the civil rights movement.  Over half of all African American students are dropping out of school in some places.  There are overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling schools, and corridors of shame in America filled with poor children — not just black children, brown and white children as well.

The state of our schools is not an African American problem; it is an American problem.  (Applause.)  Because if black and brown children cannot compete, then America cannot compete.  (Applause.)  And let me say this, if Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg, and Newt Gingrich can agree that we need to solve the education problem, then that’s something all of America can agree we can solve.  (Applause.)  Those guys came into my office.  (Laughter.) Just sitting in the Oval Office — I kept on doing a double-take.  (Laughter and applause.)  So that’s a sign of progress and it is a sign of the urgency of the education problem.  (Applause.)  All of us can agree that we need to offer every child in this country — every child —

AUDIENCE:  Amen!

THE PRESIDENT:  Got an “Amen corner” back there — (applause) — every child — every child in this country the best education the world has to offer from cradle through a career.

That’s our responsibility as leaders.  That’s the responsibility of the United States of America.  And we, all of us in government, have to work to do our part by not only offering more resources, but also demanding more reform.  Because when it comes to education, we got to get past this whole paradigm, this outdated notion that somehow it’s just money; or somehow it’s just reform, but no money — and embrace what Dr. King called the “both-and” philosophy.  We need more money and we need more reform.  (Applause.)

When it comes to higher education we’re making college and advanced training more affordable, and strengthening community colleges that are the gateway to so many with an initiative — (applause) — that will prepare students not only to earn a degree, but to find a job when they graduate; an initiative that will help us meet the goal I have set of leading the world in college degrees by 2020.  We used to rank number one in college graduates.  Now we are in the middle of the pack.  And since we are seeing more and more African American and Latino youth in our population, if we are leaving them behind we cannot achieve our goal, and America will fall further behind — and that is not a future that I accept and that is not a future that the NAACP is willing to accept.  (Applause.)

We’re creating a Race to the Top fund that will reward states and public school districts that adopt 21st century standards and assessments.  We’re creating incentives for states to promote excellent teachers and replace bad ones — (applause) — because the job of a teacher is too important for us to accept anything less than the best.  (Applause.)

We also have to explore innovative approaches such as those being pursued here in New York City; innovations like Bard High School Early College and Medgar Evers College Preparatory School that are challenging students to complete high school and earn a free associate’s degree or college credit in just four years.  (Applause.)

And we should raise the bar when it comes to early learning programs.  It’s not enough just to have a babysitter.  We need our young people stimulated and engaged and involved.  (Applause.)  We need our — our folks involved in child development to understand the latest science.  Today, some early learning programs are excellent.  Some are mediocre.  And some are wasting what studies show are by far a child’s most formative years.

That’s why I’ve issued a challenge to America’s governors:  If you match the success of states like Pennsylvania and develop an effective model for early learning; if you focus reform on standards and results in early learning programs; if you demonstrate how you will prepare the lowest income children to meet the highest standards of success — then you can compete for an Early Learning Challenge Grant that will help prepare all our children to enter kindergarten all ready to learn.  (Applause.)

So these are some of the laws we’re passing.  These are some of the policies we are enacting.  We are busy in Washington.  Folks in Congress are getting a little tuckered out.  (Laughter.)  But I’m telling them — I’m telling them we can’t rest, we’ve got a lot of work to do.  The American people are counting on us.  (Applause.)  These are some of the ways we’re doing our part in government to overcome the inequities, the injustices, the barriers that still exist in our country.

But all these innovative programs and expanded opportunities will not, in and of themselves, make a difference if each of us, as parents and as community leaders, fail to do our part by encouraging excellence in our children.  (Applause.)  Government programs alone won’t get our children to the Promised Land.  We need a new mind set, a new set of attitudes — because one of the most durable and destructive legacies of discrimination is the way we’ve internalized a sense of limitation; how so many in our community have come to expect so little from the world and from themselves.

We’ve got to say to our children, yes, if you’re African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher.  Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that somebody in a wealthy suburb does not have to face.  But that’s not a reason to get bad grades — (applause) — that’s not a reason to cut class — (applause) — that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school.  (Applause.)  No one has written your destiny for you.  Your destiny is in your hands — you cannot forget that.  That’s what we have to teach all of our children.  No excuses.  (Applause.)  No excuses.

You get that education, all those hardships will just make you stronger, better able to compete.  Yes we can.  (Applause.)

To parents — to parents, we can’t tell our kids to do well in school and then fail to support them when they get home.  (Applause.)  You can’t just contract out parenting.  For our kids to excel, we have to accept our responsibility to help them learn.  That means putting away the Xbox — (applause) — putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour.  (Applause.)  It means attending those parent-teacher conferences and reading to our children and helping them with their homework.  (Applause.)

And by the way, it means we need to be there for our neighbor’s sons and daughters.  (Applause.)  We need to go back to the time, back to the day when we parents saw somebody, saw some kid fooling around and — it wasn’t your child, but they’ll whup you anyway.  (Laughter and applause.)  Or at least they’ll tell your parents — the parents will.  You know.  (Laughter.)  That’s the meaning of community.  That’s how we can reclaim the strength and the determination and the hopefulness that helped us come so far; helped us make a way out of no way.

It also means pushing our children to set their sights a little bit higher.  They might think they’ve got a pretty good jump shot or a pretty good flow, but our kids can’t all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne.  (Applause.)  I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers — (applause) — doctors and teachers — (applause) — not just ballers and rappers.  I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice.  (Applause.)  I want them aspiring to be the President of the United States of America.  (Applause.)

I want their horizons to be limitless.  I don’t — don’t tell them they can’t do something.  Don’t feed our children with a sense of — that somehow because of their race that they cannot achieve.

Yes, government must be a force for opportunity.  Yes, government must be a force for equality.  But ultimately, if we are to be true to our past, then we also have to seize our own future, each and every day.

And that’s what the NAACP is all about.  The NAACP was not founded in search of a handout.  The NAACP was not founded in search of favors.  The NAACP was founded on a firm notion of justice; to cash the promissory note of America that says all of our children, all God’s children, deserve a fair chance in the race of life.  (Applause.)

It’s a simple dream, and yet one that all too often has been denied — and is still being denied to so many Americans.  It’s a painful thing, seeing that dream denied.  I remember visiting a Chicago school in a rough neighborhood when I was a community organizer, and some of the children gathered ’round me.  And I remember thinking how remarkable it was that all of these children seemed so full of hope, despite being born into poverty, despite being delivered, in some cases, into addiction, despite all the obstacles they were already facing — you could see that spark in their eyes.  They were the equal of children anywhere.

And I remember the principal of the school telling me that soon that sparkle would begin to dim, that things would begin to change; that soon, the laughter in their eyes would begin to fade; that soon, something would shut off inside, as it sunk in — because kids are smarter than we give them credit for — as it sunk in that their hopes would not come to pass — not because they weren’t smart enough, not because they weren’t talented enough, not because of anything about them inherently, but because, by accident of birth, they had not received a fair chance in life.

I know what can happen to a child who doesn’t have that chance.  But I also know what can happen to a child that does.  I was raised by a single mom.  I didn’t come from a lot of wealth.  I got into my share of trouble as a child.  My life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.  When I drive through Harlem or I drive through the South Side of Chicago and I see young men on the corners, I say, there but for the grace of God go I.  (Applause.)  They’re no less gifted than me.  They’re no less talented than me.

But I had some breaks.  That mother of mine, she gave me love; she pushed me, she cared about my education; she took no lip; she taught me right from wrong.  Because of her, I had a chance to make the most of my abilities.  I had the chance to make the most of my opportunities.  I had the chance to make the most of life.

The same story holds true for Michelle.  The same story holds true for so many of you.  And I want all the other Barack Obamas out there, and all the other Michelle Obamas out there — (applause) — to have the same chance — the chance that my mother gave me; that my education gave me; that the United States of America has given me.  That’s how our union will be perfected and our economy rebuilt.  That is how America will move forward in the next 100 years.

And we will move forward.  This I know — for I know how far we have come.  Some, you saw, last week in Ghana, Michelle and I took Malia and Sasha and my mother-in-law to Cape Coast Castle, in Ghana.  Some of you may have been there.  This is where captives were once imprisoned before being auctioned; where, across an ocean, so much of the African American experience began.

We went down into the dungeons where the captives were held.  There was a church above one of the dungeons — which tells you something about saying one thing and doing another.  (Applause.)  I was — we walked through the “Door Of No Return.”  I was reminded of all the pain and all the hardships, all the injustices and all the indignities on the voyage from slavery to freedom.

But I was reminded of something else.  I was reminded that no matter how bitter the rod, how stony the road, we have always persevered.  (Applause.)  We have not faltered, nor have we grown weary.  As Americans, we have demanded, and strived for, and shaped a better destiny.  And that is what we are called on to do once more.  NAACP, it will not be easy.  It will take time.  Doubts may rise and hopes may recede.

But if John Lewis could brave Billy clubs to cross a bridge — (applause) — then I know young people today can do their part and lift up our community.  (Applause.)

If Emmet Till’s uncle, Mose Wright, could summon the courage to testify against the men who killed his nephew, I know we can be better fathers and better brothers and better mothers and sisters in our own families.  (Applause.)

If three civil rights workers in Mississippi — black, white, Christian and Jew, city-born and country-bred — could lay down their lives in freedom’s cause, I know we can come together to face down the challenges of our own time.   (Applause.)  We can fix our schools — (applause) — we can heal our sick, we can rescue our youth from violence and despair.  (Applause.)

And 100 years from now, on the 200th anniversary of the NAACP — (applause) — let it be said that this generation did its part; that we too ran the race; that full of faith that our dark past has taught us, full of the hope that the present has brought us — (applause) — we faced, in our lives and all across this nation, the rising sun of a new day begun.  (Applause.)

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

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politics

President Obama Said It Straight Out

I see lots of bile being spread around about President Obama’s efforts to get a green economy bill through. Congress has passed a green bill. It’s the Senate’s turn.

Today I want to flag a statement by the President that I saw on TV so I do not have the exact language.

In essence he said, A green economy will put us in the lead in the 21st century and failure will leave us a declining nation.

This was the argument of this site before I went whole hog for Obama in Iowa. It is absolutely true.

Our recession has everything to do with the need to shift gears to green. Not just laws. Lifestyle. Spending less for junk and more for quality.We are being forced to build a new and more sustainable world.

There are prophets of this movement and I do not mean the obvious environmentalists. I mean writers like Robert Pirsig who elevated the word quality into the lexicon of politics and thinkers like Thorstein Veblen who dissected the consumer society before it became an obnoxious stain on the surface of the globe.

Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysic of Quality (MOQ) Relates to Nietzsche’s Revaluation of Values Project

Thorstein Veblen on the Web

President Obama is faced now with a huge choice. But happily it has already been made. He cares enough about his commitment to green and its value to the country to go with Democrats alone if he would otherwise have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

David Brooks says the energy bill in the House version is a quilt of special interest concessions rather than a clean executive procedural bill.

I am sure the President wants the strongest of bills and if he has to muscle Republicans and Blue Dogs to get it, he will. And if, God forbid, these retrograde folk should succeed in watering down green, we will go at it incrementally with replacements at the polls for the Senators and Representatives who did not cotton to the Obama agenda.

The energy bill is important but similar things could be said about health care. Watch for a July 4 peaking of the Obama counterpunch on this issue. The President is just as adept at being President as he was at being a candidate. And the MO has not changed. Nor for that matter has media obtuseness in failing to recognize it.

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Things I have thoughts on but refuse to blog about:

Bernie Madoff
Sarah Palin and Family
Governor Sanford
Michael Jackson

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