Statement by the President on the Violence in Afghanistan
Today, the American people honor those who were lost in the attack on the United Nations in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. Once again, we extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were killed, and to the people of the nations that they came from. The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity. No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act. Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the UN workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan.
Statement by CEA Chairman Austan Goolsbee on the Employment Situation in March
WASHINGTON – Today, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee posted the following statement to the White House blog on the employment situation in March. You can view the statementHERE.
The Employment Situation in March
Posted by Austan Goolsbee on April 01, 2011
Today’s employment report shows that private sector payrolls increased by 230,000 in March, marking 13 consecutive months of private employment growth. Private sector employers added 1.8 million jobs over that period, including more than half a million jobs in the last three months. The unemployment rate fell for the fourth straight month to 8.8 percent. The full percentage point drop in the unemployment rate over the past four months is the largest such decline since 1984, and, importantly, it has been driven primarily by increased employment, rather than people leaving the labor force.
As long as millions of people are looking for jobs, there is still considerable work to do to replace the jobs lost in the downturn. Nonetheless, the steep decline in the jobless rate and the solid employment growth in recent months are encouraging. The last two months of private job gains have been the strongest in five years. We are seeing signs that the initiatives put in place by this Administration – such as the payroll tax cut and business incentives for investment – are creating the conditions for sustained growth and job creation. We will continue to work with Congress to find ways to reduce spending, so that we can live within our means and focus on the investments that are most likely to help grow our economy and create jobs – investments in education, infrastructure, and clean energy.
In addition to the increases last month, the estimates of private sector job growth for January (now +94,000) and February (now +240,000) were revised up significantly. Overall payroll employment rose by 216,000 in March. Payroll employment grew in almost every sector. Solid employment increases occurred in professional and business services (+78,000), education and health services (+45,000), leisure and hospitality (+37,000), wholesale and retail trade (+31,800), and manufacturing (+17,000). Local government experienced a decline of 15,000, and has shed jobs in 16 of the past 17 months.
The overall trajectory of the economy has improved dramatically over the past two years, but there will surely be bumps in the road ahead. The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and employment estimates are subject to substantial revision. Therefore, as the Administration always stresses, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report.
White House to Celebrate Black History Month with Tribute to Motown’s Legacy Evening: Performances and Daytime Student Workshop to Highlight Motown Legends
Upcoming Guidance on “In Performance at the White House”
White House to Celebrate Black History Month with Tribute to Motown’s Legacy
Evening Performances and Daytime Student Workshop to Highlight Motown Legends
The President and First Lady will invite music legends and contemporary major artists to the White House on Thursday, February 24, 2011, for “The Motown Sound: In Performance at the White House,” a concert celebrating Black History Month and the legacy of Motown Records.
The program will include tributes to Motown’s distinctive soul-infused pop music sound that solidified its popularity in American culture, and showcase Motown’s impact on all music. The event will include legends from Motown’s golden age and performances by artists from today, all in tribute to Motown’s 50-year legacy. Performers include Smokey Robinson, Natasha Bedingfield, Sheryl Crow, Jamie Foxx, Gloriana, Nick Jonas, Ledisi, John Legend, Amber Riley, Mark Salling, Seal and Jordin Sparks with Greg Phillinganes as the night’s music director. This concert will be held in the East Room at 6:30 p.m. and is a POOLED press event.
“The Motown Sound: In Performance at the White House,” which is produced by public broadcaster WETA Washington, D.C., in association with Bounce, a division of AEG, and the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC), will be broadcast on PBS stations nationwide on Tuesday, March 1 at 8 p.m. (ET). The program will also be broadcast via the American Forces Network on March 11 to American service men and women and civilians at U.S. Department of Defense locations around the world.
As she has done with previous White House music events, the First Lady will host a special daytime event for students. The First Lady will welcome more than 100 students from California, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Washington, D.C. to take part in an interactive student workshop event: “The Sound of Young America: The History of Motown.” Beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the State Dining Room, The GRAMMY Museum’s Executive Director Bob Santelli will lead the students in a discussion about the history of Motown’s long-lasting legacy, ranging from its beginnings in the city of Detroit to its effect on the music industry. Featured performers from the evening event will share their experiences as well as answer student questions about the music and entertainment world. “The Sound of Young America” will stream live on www.whitehouse.gov, www.pbs.org/whitehouse, www.grammymuseum.org andwww.blackpublicmedia.org.
Statement from White House Drug Policy Director on Synthetic Stimulants, a.k.a “Bath Salts”
Washington, D.C. – Today, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy, released the following statement following recent reports indicating the emerging threat of synthetic stimulants, including MDPV (3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone) and mephedrone. These stimulants are often sold and marketed in stores as “bath salts” under names such as “Ivory Wave” or “Purple Wave.”
“I am deeply concerned about the distribution, sale, and use of synthetic stimulants – especially those that are marketed as legal substances. Although we lack sufficient data to understand exactly how prevalent the use of these stimulants are, we know they pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of young people and anyone who may use them. At a time when drug use in America is increasing, the marketing and sale of these poisons as “bath salts” is both unacceptable and dangerous. As public health officials work to address this emerging threat, I ask that parents and other adult influencers act immediately to discuss with young people the severe harm that can be caused by the use of both legal and illegal drugs and to prevent drug use before it starts.”
Recent information from poison control centers indicates that abuse of these unlicensed and unregulated drugs is growing across the country. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 251 calls related to “bath salts” to poison control centers so far this year. This number already exceeds the 236 calls received by poison control centers for all of 2010. Doctors and clinicians at U.S. poison centers have indicated that ingesting “bath salts,” containing synthetic stimulants, can cause chest pains, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, and delusions. Already, several states have introduced legislation to ban these products, including Hawaii, Michigan, Louisiana, Kentucky, and North Dakota. Several counties, cities, and local municipalities have also taken action to ban these products.
Director Kerlikowske also cited three steps parents can take today to protect young people:
1. Talk to your kids about drugs. Research shows parents are the best messengers to deliver critical information on drug use. Make sure they know of the harms that can result from drug use and that you don’t approve of them. For tips and parenting advice visit www.TheAntiDrug.com.
2. Learn to spot risk factors that can lead to drug use. Association with drug-abusing peers is often the most immediate risk factor that can lead young people to drug use and delinquent behavior. Other risk factors include poor classroom behavior or social skills and academic failure. Parents can protect their kids from these influences by building strong bonds with their children, staying involved in their lives, and setting clear limits and consistent enforcement of discipline.
For more information on National efforts to reduce drug use and its consequences visit: www.WhiteHouseDrugPolicy.gov
The Office of National Drug Control Policy seeks to foster healthy individuals and safe communities by effectively leading the Nation’s effort to reduce drug use and its consequences.
WEEKLY ADDRESS: “America Will Win the Future by Out-Innovating, Out-Educating, and Out-Building Our Competitors”
WEEKLY ADDRESS: “America Will Win the Future by Out-Innovating, Out-Educating, and Out-Building Our Competitors”
WASHINGTON – In this week’s address, President Obama called Orion Energy Systems in Manitowoc, Wisconsin an example of how America can win the future by being the best place on Earth to do business. Orion was able to open with the help of small business loans and incentives that are creating demand for clean energy technologies. By sparking innovation and spurring new products and technologies, America will unleash the talent and ingenuity of American workers and businesses, which will lead to new, good jobs.
The audio and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. EDT, Saturday, January 29, 2011.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
January 29, 2011
I’m speaking to you today from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where I’m at an innovative company called Orion Energy Systems.
Just a few years ago, this was an empty warehouse. A major employer had shut down this factory, moved its operations abroad, and took a lot of jobs away from this town.
But today, as you can see behind me, this is a thriving enterprise once more. You are looking at a factory where 250 workers are building advanced clean energy systems – state-of-the-art technologies that use solar power and energy efficiency to save farms and businesses thousands of dollars on their utility bills.
I’m here because this business and others like it are showing us the way forward. And in the coming days, I’ll be shining a spotlight on innovators across America who are relying on new technologies to create new jobs and opportunities in new industries.
That’s what companies like Orion are doing. And that’s how America will win the future – by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building our competitors. We’ll win the future by being the best place on Earth to do business. That is what we are called to do at this moment. And in my state of the union, I talked about how we get there.
It starts by making sure that every single child can get a good education and every American can afford college or career training. Because that’s what will help light the spark in the minds of innovators – and ensure that our people have the skills to work for innovative companies.
We also need to make sure that America can move goods and information as fast as any of our competitors, whether on the road or online. Because good infrastructure helps our businesses sell their products and services faster and cheaper.
We have to reform our government and cut wasteful spending, so that we eliminate what we don’t need to pay for the investments we need to grow, like education and medical research.
And as we can see here in Manitowoc, we need to ensure that we are promoting innovation – especially in promising areas like clean energy. This is going to be key to growing our economy and helping businesses create jobs. Orion, for example, was able to open with the help of small business loans and incentives that are creating demand for clean energy technologies like wind power and solar panels.
That’s why I’ve proposed a bigger tax credit for the research that companies do. And to give these companies the certainty of knowing there will be a market for what they sell, I’ve set this goal for America: by 2035, 80 percent of electricity should come from clean energy.
This is going to help spark innovation at businesses across America. This is going to spur new products and technologies. This is going to lead to good, new jobs. And that’s how we win the future – by unleashing the talent and ingenuity of American businesses and American workers in every corner of this country.
So to those who say that America’s best days are behind us, let them come here, to Manitowoc. Let them come to this once-shuttered factory that is now bustling with workers building new technologies for the world. Let them come here to see the incredible promise of our country.
This is the future. And it’s bright.
Readout of White House Drug Policy Deputy Director David K. Mineta’s Participation in a Veterans Substance Abuse Treatment Roundtable in Brooklyn, NY
Readout of White House Drug Policy Deputy Director David K. Mineta’s Participation in a Veterans Substance Abuse Treatment Roundtable in Brooklyn, NY
Washington, D.C. – Today, David K. Mineta, Deputy Director of Demand Reduction for National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), held a roundtable discussion at Phoenix House Career Academy in Brooklyn, New York with 30 – 40 veterans participating in various therapeutic communities. The participating veterans are past or current clients at approximately 12 different New York City-based substance abuse treatment programs.
Topics covered in today’s roundtable included the challenges and barriers veterans uniquely confront as they recover from addiction to alcohol and drugs, and deal with myriad of other issues, including housing, employment, and mental health disorders. Particular attention was given to the experiences of women veterans and their children and the need for specialty services.
“Supporting military personnel and their families is a top priority of the Obama Administration. The treatment providers who participated in the roundtable today provide examples of how evidence-based treatment programs tailored to the specific needs of all veterans, including their families, can help restore the lives of those who have made great sacrifices for our country,” said Deputy Director Mineta. “Recent data show about one in eight active-duty military personnel reported past-month illicit drug use, a trend largely driven by prescription drug abuse. An active-duty service member who doesn’t get the appropriate treatment will one day be a veteran with a substance abuse problem – which highlights the need for treatment options specifically targeted to the unique needs of veterans and their families.”
ONDCP is coordinating an unprecedented government-wide public health approach to reduce drug use and its consequences. This effort includes requesting an increase in funding for drug prevention by $203 million and treatment programs by $137 million dollars for Fiscal Year 2011, to train and engage primary health care to intervene in emerging cases of drug abuse, expand and improve specialty care for addiction—including veterans care and family-based treatment, and to better manage drug-related offenders in community corrections.
For more information on National efforts to reduce drug use and its consequences visit: www.WhiteHouseDrugPolicy.gov
The Office of National Drug Control Policy seeks to foster healthy individuals and safe communities by effectively leading the Nation’s effort to reduce drug use and its consequences.
White House Blog Posted By First Lady Michelle Obama: “An Open Letter to Parents Following the Tragedy in Tucson”
An Open Letter to Parents Following the Tragedy in Tucson
Posted by First Lady Michelle Obama on January 13, 2011 at 06:07 PM EST
Like so many Americans all across the country, Barack and I were shocked and heartbroken by the horrific act of violence committed in Arizona this past weekend. Yesterday, we had the chance to attend a memorial service and meet with some of the families of those who lost their lives, and both of us were deeply moved by their strength and resilience in the face of such unspeakable tragedy.
As parents, an event like this hits home especially hard. It makes our hearts ache for those who lost loved ones. It makes us want to hug our own families a little tighter. And it makes us think about what an event like this says about the world we live in – and the world in which our children will grow up.
In the days and weeks ahead, as we struggle with these issues ourselves, many of us will find that our children are struggling with them as well. The questions my daughters have asked are the same ones that many of your children will have – and they don’t lend themselves to easy answers. But they will provide an opportunity for us as parents to teach some valuable lessons – about the character of our country, about the values we hold dear, and about finding hope at a time when it seems far away.
We can teach our children that here in America, we embrace each other, and support each other, in times of crisis. And we can help them do that in their own small way – whether it’s by sending a letter, or saying a prayer, or just keeping the victims and their families in their thoughts.
We can teach them the value of tolerance – the practice of assuming the best, rather than the worst, about those around us. We can teach them to give others the benefit of the doubt, particularly those with whom they disagree.
We can also teach our children about the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country and by their families. We can explain to them that although we might not always agree with those who represent us, anyone who enters public life does so because they love their country and want to serve it.
Christina Green felt that call. She was just nine years old when she lost her life. But she was at that store that day because she was passionate about serving others. She had just been elected to her school’s student council, and she wanted to meet her Congresswoman and learn more about politics and public life.
And that’s something else we can do for our children – we can tell them about Christina and about how much she wanted to give back. We can tell them about John Roll, a judge with a reputation for fairness; about Dorothy Morris, a devoted wife to her husband, her high school sweetheart, to whom she’d been married for 55 years; about Phyllis Schneck, a great-grandmother who sewed aprons for church fundraisers; about Dorwan Stoddard, a retired construction worker who helped neighbors down on their luck; and about Gabe Zimmerman, who did community outreach for Congresswoman Giffords, working tirelessly to help folks who were struggling, and was engaged to be married next year. We can tell them about the brave men and women who risked their lives that day to save others. And we can work together to honor their legacy by following their example – by embracing our fellow citizens; by standing up for what we believe is right; and by doing our part, however we can, to serve our communities and our country.
Michelle Obama is the First Lady of the United States
BREAKING NEWS: Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery At a Memorial Service for the Victims of the Shooting in Tucson, Arizona University of Arizona, McKale Memorial Center Tucson, Arizona
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
At a Memorial Service for the Victims of the Shooting in Tucson, Arizona
University of Arizona, McKale Memorial Center
January 12, 2011
As Prepared for Delivery—
To the families of those we’ve lost; to all who called them friends; to the students of this university, the public servants gathered tonight, and the people of Tucson and Arizona: I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today, and will stand by you tomorrow.
There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through.
As Scripture tells us:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff, and many of her constituents gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech. They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders – representatives of the people answering to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns to our nation’s capital. Gabby called it “Congress on Your Corner” – just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.
That is the quintessentially American scene that was shattered by a gunman’s bullets. And the six people who lost their lives on Saturday – they too represented what is best in America.
Judge John Roll served our legal system for nearly 40 years. A graduate of this university and its law school, Judge Roll was recommended for the federal bench by John McCain twenty years ago, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and rose to become Arizona’s chief federal judge. His colleagues described him as the hardest-working judge within the Ninth Circuit. He was on his way back from attending Mass, as he did every day, when he decided to stop by and say hi to his Representative. John is survived by his loving wife, Maureen, his three sons, and his five grandchildren.
George and Dorothy Morris – “Dot” to her friends – were high school sweethearts who got married and had two daughters. They did everything together, traveling the open road in their RV, enjoying what their friends called a 50-year honeymoon. Saturday morning, they went by the Safeway to hear what their Congresswoman had to say. When gunfire rang out, George, a former Marine, instinctively tried to shield his wife. Both were shot. Dot passed away.
A New Jersey native, Phyllis Schneck retired to Tucson to beat the snow. But in the summer, she would return East, where her world revolved around her 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 2 year-old great-granddaughter. A gifted quilter, she’d often work under her favorite tree, or sometimes sew aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants to give out at the church where she volunteered. A Republican, she took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better.
Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard grew up in Tucson together – about seventy years ago. They moved apart and started their own respective families, but after both were widowed they found their way back here, to, as one of Mavy’s daughters put it, “be boyfriend and girlfriend again.” When they weren’t out on the road in their motor home, you could find them just up the road, helping folks in need at the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ. A retired construction worker, Dorwan spent his spare time fixing up the church along with their dog, Tux. His final act of selflessness was to dive on top of his wife, sacrificing his life for hers.
Everything Gabe Zimmerman did, he did with passion – but his true passion was people. As Gabby’s outreach director, he made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own, seeing to it that seniors got the Medicare benefits they had earned, that veterans got the medals and care they deserved, that government was working for ordinary folks. He died doing what he loved – talking with people and seeing how he could help. Gabe is survived by his parents, Ross and Emily, his brother, Ben, and his fiancée, Kelly, who he planned to marry next year.
And then there is nine year-old Christina Taylor Green. Christina was an A student, a dancer, a gymnast, and a swimmer. She often proclaimed that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues, and as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her. She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age, and would remind her mother, “We are so blessed. We have the best life.” And she’d pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate.
Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing. Our hearts are broken – and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness.
Our hearts are full of hope and thanks for the 13 Americans who survived the shooting, including the congresswoman many of them went to see on Saturday. I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak. And I can tell you this – she knows we’re here and she knows we love her and she knows that we will be rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey.
And our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others. We are grateful for Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby’s office who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive. We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. We are grateful for a petite 61 year-old, Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer’s ammunition, undoubtedly saving some lives. And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and emergency medics who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt.
These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle. They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned – as it was on Saturday morning.
Their actions, their selflessness, also pose a challenge to each of us. It raises the question of what, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward. How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?
You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.
For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.
So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.
But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.
After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?
So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.
That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.
And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.
So deserving of our love.
And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.
The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.
I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.” On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life. “I hope you help those in need,” read one. “I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.”
If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.
May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.
WEEKLY ADDRESS: President Obama Touts Benefits of Tax Cut Package to Take Place in the New Year
WASHINGTON – In his weekly address, President Obama looked forward to how the tax cut package he signed into law in December will benefit millions of Americans in the new year. For one year, any business, large or small, can write off the full cost of most of their capital investments. The payroll tax cut will mean $1,000 more this year for a typical family – 155 million workers will see larger paychecks because of that tax cut. Twelve million families will benefit from a $1,000 child tax credit and an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit. And eight million students and families will continue to benefit from a $2,500 tuition tax credit. Independent experts have concluded that the tax cut package should significantly accelerate the pace of the recovery.
The audio and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, Saturday, January 08, 2011.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
As Prepared for Delivery
The White House
January 08, 2011
Last month, our economy added more than 100,000 private sector jobs and the unemployment rate fell sharply. This follows encouraging economic news from increased auto sales to continued expansion of our manufacturing sector.
Now, we know that these numbers can bounce around from month to month. But the trend is clear. We saw 12 straight months of private sector job growth – the first time that’s been true since 2006. The economy added 1.3 million jobs last year. And each quarter was stronger than the last, which means the pace of hiring is picking up.
Now we’re seeing more optimistic economic forecasts for the year ahead, in part due to the package of tax cuts I signed last month. I fought for that package because, while we are recovering, we plainly still have a lot of work to do. The recession rocked the foundations of our economy, and left a lot of destruction and doubt in its wake.
So, our fundamental mission must be to accelerate hiring and growth, while we do the things we know are necessary to insure America’s leadership in an increasingly competitive world and build an economy that will provide opportunity to any American willing to work for it.
I’m absolutely confident we will get there. I am confident, first and foremost, because of you; because of the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs and business owners; the tenacity of our workers; and the determination of the American people. This is what has made our economy the envy of the world. But we have to do everything we can to help our businesses and workers win in this new economy.
Yesterday, I visited the Thompson Creek Window Company, a small business in Maryland. Over the past year, sales there have grown by 55% thanks, in part, to an energy tax credit we created. And this year, they’re also planning to take advantage of a new tax incentive for businesses. For one year, any business, large or small, can write off the full cost of most of their capital investments. This will make it more affordable for businesses like Thompson Creek to expand and hire.
So, if you’re a business owner, I’d encourage you to take advantage of this temporary provision. It will save you money today and help you grow your business tomorrow.
This incentive is part of the economic package I signed into law last month – a package that also includes a payroll tax cut that will mean $1,000 more this year for a typical family. In fact, 155 million workers will see larger paychecks this month as a result of this tax cut.
Twelve million families will benefit from a $1,000 child tax credit and an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit. Eight million students and families will continue to benefit from a $2,500 tuition tax credit to make college more affordable.
And millions of entrepreneurs in big cities and small towns across the country will benefit not only from the business expensing plan I mentioned, but from additional tax cuts that will spur research and development.
Independent experts have concluded that, taken together, this package of tax cuts will significantly accelerate the pace of our economic recovery, spurring additional jobs and growth.
And that is our mission. That should be the focus, day in and day out, of our work in Washington in the coming months, as we wrestle with a challenging budget and long-term deficits. And I’m determined to work with everyone, Republicans and Democrats, to achieve that goal. What we can’t do is refight the battles of the past two years that distract us from the hard work of moving our economy forward. What we can’t do is engage in the kinds of symbolic battles that so often consume Washington while the rest of America waits for us to solve problems.
The tax cuts and other progress we made in December were a much-needed departure from that pattern. Let’s build on that admirable example and do our part, here in Washington, so the doers, builders, and innovators in America can do their best in 2011 and beyond. Thanks everyone, and have a nice weekend.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE DECEMBER JOBS REPORT AND
ECONOMIC PERSONNEL ANNOUNCEMENTS
Thompson Creek Manufacturing
11:40 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Please, everybody have a seat. It is wonderful to be with all of you today. I want to make just a couple of quick acknowledgments. First of all, we have one of the fine senators from the great state of Maryland, Ben Cardin, in the house. Where’s Ben? There he is right here. (Applause.) Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is here. (Applause.)
I want to thank Rick Wuest, the CEO and owner of Thompson Creek Manufacturing, and all the employees here at Thompson. Thank you so much for your hospitality and the great work that you’re doing. (Applause.) And I want to acknowledge the family and guests of those who are standing behind me today.
It is wonderful to be here at Thompson Creek, and I want to thank Rick for showing me how you manufacture more efficient windows at this factory. This is, as he explained to me, a family business. Rick was just 13 when his father Fred opened the company. And back then, his family lived above the store, and Rick started out sweeping the floors. Three decades later, Thompson Creek has expanded. It’s already outgrown this new 80,000 square-foot facility that it moved into just three years ago. And I’ll bet sometimes Rick still feels like he’s living at the plant. (Laughter.) That’s what happens when you’re in charge.
But building this business has been an extraordinary accomplishment for the Wuest family. And it speaks not only to him — it also speaks to all the employees here today, the hardworking men and women who make this company work. And it speaks to the promise of America. It’s the idea that if you’ve got a dream and you’re willing to work hard, then you can succeed.
That promise is at the heart of who we are as a people, and it’s at the heart of our economic might. It’s what helps give an entrepreneur the courage to start a business, or a company the confidence to expand. It’s what leads to new products and new ideas, and technologies that have not only made us the world’s largest economy, but also the most innovative economy in the world. Making it possible for businesses to succeed is how we ensure that our economy succeeds and all our people succeed. It’s how we create jobs.
And that’s what’s guided my administration for the past two years. Government can’t guarantee Thompson Creek or any business will be successful, but government can knock down barriers like a lack of affordable credit or high costs for investment or high costs for hiring — we can do something about that. Government can remove obstacles in your path.
And that’s why we cut taxes for small businesses over the last two years. For example, with a tax break for hiring unemployed workers, Thompson Creek was able to grow its workforce from 200 employees to nearly 300 employees in just one year. And it took advantage of the tax credits that we put into place. We also passed a tax credit for products like energy-saving windows, and that led to a 55-percent boost in the sales at this firm.
Rick was telling me that when that tax credit got into place, the marketing arm of Thompson Creek got busy. (Laughter.) And that’s the right — that exactly what we intended. That’s exactly what we wanted to see, is explaining to the American people you can save money on your energy bill, this is a smart thing to do, take advantage of it.
So incentives like these are helping companies across America. And the jobs numbers released this morning reflect that growth. The economy added more than 100,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate fell sharply.
Now, we know these numbers can bounce around from month to month. But the trend is clear. We saw 12 straight months of private sector job growth. That’s the first time that’s been true since 2006. The economy added 1.3 million jobs last year. And each quarter was stronger than the previous quarter, which means that the pace of hiring is beginning to pick up. We’re also seeing more optimistic economic forecasts for the year ahead, in part due to the package of tax cuts I signed last month, including a payroll tax cut for workers and a series of tax cuts to encourage investment and innovation and hiring.
And I fought for that package because, even though our economy is recovering, we’ve still got a lot to do. This was a brutal recession that we went through, the worst in our lifetimes. It left a lot of destruction in its wake. More than 8 million jobs were lost. So even though we’ve created 1.3 million jobs and we saved a whole lot of jobs, you’ve still got a whole bunch of folks who are out there looking, still struggling. We’ve got a big hole that we’re digging ourselves out of.
And so our mission has to be to accelerate hiring and to accelerate growth. And that depends on making our economy more competitive so that we’re fostering new jobs in new industries, and training workers to fill them. It depends on keeping up the fight for every job and every business and every opportunity to spur growth. And so standing with me here today are men and women who will help America fulfill in this mission. Let me just introduce each of them.
We’re joined, first of all, by Gene Sperling, who I have appointed Director of the National Economic Council. Give Gene a big round of applause. (Applause.) Now, Gene has been an extraordinary asset to me and this administration over the past two years. He’s been working with me. He led our efforts to pass the small business jobs bill to help companies all across America. He also helped negotiate the tax compromise that we passed at the end of this year. He’s a public servant who has devoted his life to making this economy work -– and making it work specifically for middle-class families.
Now, one of the reasons I’ve selected Gene is he’s done this before. This is his second tour of duty heading up the NEC, and in his tenure in the Clinton administration during the late ‘90s, he helped formulate the policies that contributed to turning deficits to surpluses and a time of prosperity and progress for American families in a sustained way. Few people bring the level of intelligence and sheer work ethic that Gene brings to every assignment he’s ever taken. And few do so with such decency and integrity. So, Gene, we are lucky to have you back at the NEC. And I know you’re going to do a terrific job.
Part of the reason I know that Gene will do a terrific job is because he’s going to have Jason Furman working with him. I’m pleased to elevate Jason Furman to be principal deputy at the National Economic Council. Give Jason a big round of applause. (Applause.)
Over the past two years, I’ve relied on Jason’s advice and expertise on a range of economic issues, from helping design the emergency steps we took to prevent our economy from sinking into a second depression, to most recently working with Gene and the economic team to pass the tax cut compromise. And I’m confident that he will continue to do terrific work in this greater capacity.
We’re also joined by somebody I’ve come to rely on as an advisor and a friend since my first days as a presidential candidate. Heather Higginbottom is currently the deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council where she’s been the point person on education as we’ve pursued some of the most innovative and important reforms in decades. I’m proud to nominate Heather to now serve as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.
And she understands the relationship between numbers on a ledger and the lives of real people. As we make cuts that are necessary to rein in the deficit, I want to make sure I’ve got Heather there so that we’re meeting our fundamental obligations to our people and to our economy as well. So give Heather a big round of applause. Thank you. (Applause.)
And, finally, I’m nominating Katharine Abraham to the Council of Economic Advisers. Go ahead. (Applause.) Katharine brings a wealth of experience as an economist, as a commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics during the Clinton administration. I am confident that she is going to provide the kind of unbiased, unvarnished advice that will help us craft the best policies to strengthen this economy in the years to come.
Now, part of our mission — part of this team’s mission — in the months ahead will be to maximize the steps we’ve taken to spur the economy. And one of the most important is allowing businesses to immediately deduct the entire cost of certain investments like the new equipment that I was taking a look at. This is a policy I fought for over the past two years. We were able to pass it finally as part of the tax cut compromise. It is going to make a real difference for our economy.
So, talking to Rick, I know Thompson Creek is planning to take full advantage of this tax break. And that’s going to help Thompson Creek renovate, expand, and add another hundred new employees right here. And that’s worth applauding. (Applause.) That’s good. So you’ve got companies like this all over the country. And the Treasury Department estimates that overall this will accelerate $150 billion in tax cuts for 2 million businesses over the next two years.
So I want to urge all businesses with capital needs to take advantage of this temporary expensing provision, because we expect it to lower the average cost of investment by more than 75 percent for companies like Thompson Creek. It is a powerful new incentive for businesses. It is a great opportunity for companies to grow and add jobs. Now is the time to act.
Companies who are listening out there: If you are planning or thinking about making investments sometime in the future, make those investments now and you’re going to save money. And that will help us grow the economy. It will help you grow your business.
Overall, the decline in the unemployment rate is positive news, but it only underscores the importance of us not letting up on our efforts. So I’m looking forward to working with Heather and Gene and Katharine and Jason and everybody at the White House. We have one focus, and that is making sure that we are duplicating the success of places like Thompson Creek all across the country. We want businesses to grow. We want this economy to grow. And we want to put people back to work.
And I want to promise everybody at Thompson Creek and across the country: We will not rest until we have fully recovered from this recession and we have reached that brighter day.
Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)
Statement by CEA Chairman Austan Goolsbee on the Employment Situation in December
WASHINGTON – Today, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee posted the following statement to the White House blog on the Employment Situation in December. You can view the statement HERE.
The Employment Situation in December
Posted by Austan Goolsbee on January 07, 2011 at 09:40 AM EST
Today’s employment report shows that private sector payrolls increased by 113,000 in December, capping 12 consecutive months of growth that added 1.3 million private sector jobs to the economy during 2010, the strongest private sector job growth since 2006. The unemployment rate fell 0.4 percentage point to 9.4 percent last month.
The overall trend of economic data over the past several months has been encouraging, due in large part to the initiatives passed by this Administration, but we still have a ways to go. The measures we worked with Congress to pass last month that continue tax cuts for the middle class and extensions to unemployment insurance are vital to sustaining the recovery. The Administration will also continue to focus on actions that the President has recommended to increase growth and job creation, such as providing incentives to encourage businesses to invest and hire here at home, investing in education and infrastructure, and promoting exports abroad.
In addition to the increases last month, the estimates of private sector job growth for October (now 193,000) and November (now 79,000) were revised up. Including today’s revisions, private sector employers have added an average of 128,000 jobs per month in the 4th quarter, the highest quarterly average in almost four years.
Overall payroll employment rose by 103,000 last month. Among the sectors with the largest payroll employment growth were leisure and hospitality (+47,000), education and health services (+44,000), temporary help services (+15,900), and manufacturing (+10,000). Local government (-20,000) and construction (-16,000) were among the sectors that subtracted from the total.
Even though the unemployment rate fell sharply in December, it is still unacceptably high and we need robust employment growth in order to recover from the deep job losses that began over two years ago. The overall trajectory of the economy has improved dramatically since then, but there will surely continue to be bumps in the road ahead. The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and employment estimates are subject to substantial revision. Therefore, as the Administration always stresses, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report.
Presidential Nominations Sent To Senate For Confirmation; Some Are Two Years Old Held Hostage By GOP
Note from the Editor of THE WASHINGTON REVIEW AND COMMENTARY:
“The following are a listing of Presidential nominations to various positions throughout the Obama Administration. Some of these nominations are two years old. Others are a year old. The reason for the delay of Senate confirmations regarding these Presidential nominations are purely partisan in nature.”
NOMINATIONS SENT TO THE SENATE:
Arenda L. Wright Allen, of Virginia, to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, vice Jerome B. Friedman, retired. (Originally nominated on 12/1/10)
Anthony J. Battaglia, of California, to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of California, vice M. James Lorenz, retired. (Originally nominated on 5/20/10)
Cathy Bissoon, of Pennsylvania, to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania, vice Thomas M. Hardiman, elevated. (Originally nominated on 11/17/10)
James Emanuel Boasberg, of the District of Columbia, to be United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, vice Thomas F. Hogan, retired. (Originally nominated on 6/17/10)
Vincent L. Briccetti, of New York, to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, vice Kimba M. Wood, retired. (Originally nominated on 11/17/10)
Louis B. Butler, Jr., of Wisconsin, to be United Stated District Judge for the Western District of Wisconsin, vice John C. Shabaz, retired. (Originally nominated on 9/30/09)
Susan L. Carney, of Connecticut, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit, vice Barrington D. Parker, retired. (Originally nominated on 5/20/10)
Claire C. Cecchi, of New Jersey, to be United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey, vice Joseph A. Greenaway, elevated. (Originally nominated on 12/1/10)
Edward Milton Chen, of California, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of California, vice Martin J. Jenkins, resigned. (Originally nominated on 8/6/09)
Max Oliver Cogburn, Jr., of North Carolina, to be United States District Judge for the Western District of North Carolina, vice Lacy H. Thornburg, retired. (Originally nominated on 5/27/10)
Mae A. D’Agostino, of New York, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of New York, vice Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., retired. (Originally nominated on 9/29/10)
Roy Bale Dalton, Jr., of Florida, to be United States District Judge for the Middle District of Florida, vice Henry Lee Adams, Jr., retired. (Originally nominated on 11/17/10)
Sara Lynn Darrow, of Illinois, to be United States District Judge for the Central District of Illinois, vice Joe B. McDade, retired. (Originally nominated on 11/17/10)
Edward J. Davila, of California, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of California, vice Marilyn Hall Patel, retired. (Originally nominated on 5/20/10)
Charles Bernard Day, of Maryland, to be United States District Judge for the District of Maryland, vice Peter J. Messitte, retired. (Originally nominated on 7/21/10)
Bernice Bouie Donald, of Tennessee, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit, vice Ronald Lee Gilman, retired. (Originally nominated on 12/1/10)
Edward Carroll DuMont, of the District of Columbia, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Federal Circuit, vice Paul R. Michel, retired. (Originally nominated on 4/14/10)
James E. Graves, Jr., of Mississippi, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit, vice Rhesa H. Barksdale, retired. (Originally nominated on 6/10/10)
Caitlin Joan Halligan, of New York, to be United States Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, vice John G. Roberts, Jr., elevated. (Originally nominated on 9/29/10)
Marco A. Hernandez, of Oregon, to be United States District Judge for the District of Oregon, vice Garr M. King, retired. (Originally nominated on 7/14/10)
Paul Kinloch Holmes, III, of Arkansas, to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, vice Robert T. Dawson, retired. (Originally nominated on 4/28/10)
Mark Raymond Hornak, of Pennsylvania, to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania, vice Donetta W. Ambrose, retired. (Originally nominated on 12/1/10)
Amy Berman Jackson, of the District of Columbia, to be United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, vice Gladys Kessler, retired. (Originally nominated on 6/17/10)
Richard Brooke Jackson, of Colorado, to be United States District Judge for the District of Colorado, vice Phillip S. Figa, deceased. (Originally nominated on 9/29/10)
Steve C. Jones, of Georgia, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of Georgia, vice Orinda D. Evans, retired. (Originally nominated on 7/14/10)
John A. Kronstadt, of California, to be United States District Judge for the Central District of California, vice Florence-Marie Cooper, deceased. (Originally nominated on 11/7/10)
Goodwin Liu, of California, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit, vice a new position created by Public Law 110-177, approved January 7, 2008. (Originally nominated on 2/24/10)
Robert David Mariani, of Pennsylvania, to be United States District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, vice James M. Munley, retired. (Originally nominated on 12/1/10)
Marina Garcia Marmolejo, of Texas, to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of Texas, vice Samuel B. Kent, resigned. (Originally nominated on 7/28/10)
John J. McConnell, Jr., of Rhode Island, to be United States District Judge for the District of Rhode Island, vice Ernest C. Torres, retired. (Originally nominated on 3/10/10)
Sue E. Myerscough, of Illinois, to be United States District Judge for the Central District of Illinois, vice Jeanne E. Scott, resigned. (Originally nominated on 7/14/10)
Victoria Frances Nourse, of Wisconsin, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit, vice Terence T. Evans, retired. (Originally nominated on 7/14/10)
Jimmie V. Reyna, of Maryland, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Federal Circuit, vice Haldane Robert Mayer, retired. (Originally nominated on 9/29/10)
John Andrew Ross, of Missouri, to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri, vice Charles A. Shaw, retired. (Originally nominated on 12/1/10)
Esther Salas, of New Jersey, to be United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey, vice Katharine Sweeney Hayden, retired. (Originally nominated on 12/1/10)
Diana Saldaña, of Texas, to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of Texas, vice George P. Kazen, retired. (Originally nominated on 7/14/10)
James E. Shadid, of Illinois, to be United States District Judge for the Central District of Illinois, vice Michael M. Mihm, retired. (Originally nominated on 5/27/10)
Kevin Hunter Sharp, of Tennessee, to be United States District Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee, vice Robert L. Echols, retired. (Originally nominated on 11/17/10)
Michael H. Simon, of Oregon, to be United States District Judge for the District of Oregon, vice Ancer L. Haggerty, retired. (Originally nominated on 7/14/10)
Amy Totenberg, of Georgia, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of Georgia, vice Jack T. Camp, Jr., retired. (Originally nominated on 3/17/10)
Michael Francis Urbanski, of Virginia, to be United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, vice Norman K. Moon, retired. (Originally nominated on 12/1/10)
Kathleen M. Williams, of Florida, to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of Florida, vice Daniel T. K. Hurley, retired. (Originally nominated on 7/21/10)
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND THE VICE PRESIDENT AT SIGNING OF THE DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL REPEAL ACT OF 2010
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND THE VICE PRESIDENT
AT SIGNING OF THE
DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL REPEAL ACT OF 2010
Department of Interior
9:10 A.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hey, folks, how are you? (Applause.) It’s a good day. (Applause.) It’s a real good day. As some of my colleagues can tell you, this is a long time in coming. But I am happy it’s here.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Please be seated.
It was a great five-star general and President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who once said, “Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness and consideration, and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.”
By repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” today, we take a big step toward fostering justice, fairness and consideration, and that real cooperation President Eisenhower spoke of.
This fulfills an important campaign promise the President and I made, and many here on this stage made, and many of you have fought for, for a long time, in repealing a policy that actually weakens our national security, diminished our ability to have military readiness, and violates the fundamental American principle of fairness and equality — that exact same set of principles that brave gay men and women will now be able to openly defend around the world. (Applause.)
It is both morally and militarily simply the right thing to do. And it’s particularly important that this result was fully supported by those within the military who are charged with implementing it. And I want to pay particular respect, just as a personal note — as we used to say, I used to be allowed to say in the Senate, a point of personal privilege — Admiral Mullen, you’re a stand-up guy. (Applause.) I think they like you. (Applause.)
He already has enough power. Don’t — (laughter.)
And it couldn’t have been done without these men and women leading our military. And certainly it could not have been done without the steady, dedicated and persistent leadership of the President of the United States. (Applause.)
Mr. President, by signing this bill, you will be linking military might with an abiding sense of justice. You’ll be projecting power by promoting fairness, and making the United States military as strong as they can be at a time we need it to be the strongest.
Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States of America, the Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Yes, we did! Yes, we did! Yes, we did!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you! Yes, we did.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. President!
THE PRESIDENT: You are welcome. (Applause.)
This is a good day.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, it is!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: You rock, President Obama!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Laughter.)
You know, I am just overwhelmed. This is a very good day. (Applause.) And I want to thank all of you, especially the people on this stage, but each and every one of you who have been working so hard on this, members of my staff who worked so hard on this. I couldn’t be prouder.
Sixty-six years ago, in the dense, snow-covered forests of Western Europe, Allied Forces were beating back a massive assault in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. And in the final days of fighting, a regiment in the 80th Division of Patton’s Third Army came under fire. The men were traveling along a narrow trail. They were exposed and they were vulnerable. Hundreds of soldiers were cut down by the enemy.
And during the firefight, a private named Lloyd Corwin tumbled 40 feet down the deep side of a ravine. And dazed and trapped, he was as good as dead. But one soldier, a friend, turned back. And with shells landing around him, amid smoke and chaos and the screams of wounded men, this soldier, this friend, scaled down the icy slope, risking his own life to bring Private Corwin to safer ground.
For the rest of his years, Lloyd credited this soldier, this friend, named Andy Lee, with saving his life, knowing he would never have made it out alone. It was a full four decades after the war, when the two friends reunited in their golden years, that Lloyd learned that the man who saved his life, his friend Andy, was gay. He had no idea. And he didn’t much care. Lloyd knew what mattered. He knew what had kept him alive; what made it possible for him to come home and start a family and live the rest of his life. It was his friend.
And Lloyd’s son is with us today. And he knew that valor and sacrifice are no more limited by sexual orientation than they are by race or by gender or by religion or by creed; that what made it possible for him to survive the battlefields of Europe is the reason that we are here today. (Applause.) That’s the reason we are here today. (Applause.)
So this morning, I am proud to sign a law that will bring an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” (Applause.) It is a law — this law I’m about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.
No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who were forced to leave the military -– regardless of their skills, no matter their bravery or their zeal, no matter their years of exemplary performance -– because they happen to be gay. No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder, in order to serve the country that they love. (Applause.)
As Admiral Mike Mullen has said, “Our people sacrifice a lot for their country, including their lives. None of them should have to sacrifice their integrity as well.” (Applause.)
That’s why I believe this is the right thing to do for our military. That’s why I believe it is the right thing to do, period.
Now, many fought long and hard to reach this day. I want to thank the Democrats and Republicans who put conviction ahead of politics to get this done together. (Applause. I want to recognize Nancy Pelosi — (applause) — Steny Hoyer – (applause) — and Harry Reid. (Applause.)
Today we’re marking an historic milestone, but also the culmination of two of the most productive years in the history of Congress, in no small part because of their leadership. And so we are very grateful to them. (Applause.)
I want to thank Joe Lieberman — (applause) — and Susan Collins. (Applause.) And I think Carl Levin is still working — (laughter) — but I want to add Carl Levin. (Applause.) They held their shoulders to the wheel in the Senate. I am so proud of Susan Davis, who’s on the stage. (Applause.) And a guy you might know — Barney Frank. (Applause.) They kept up the fight in the House. And I’ve got to acknowledge Patrick Murphy, a veteran himself, who helped lead the way in Congress. (Applause.)
I also want to commend our military leadership. Ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a topic in my first meeting with Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, and the Joint Chiefs. (Applause.) We talked about how to end this policy. We talked about how success in both passing and implementing this change depended on working closely with the Pentagon. And that’s what we did.
And two years later, I’m confident that history will remember well the courage and the vision of Secretary Gates — (applause) — of Admiral Mike Mullen, who spoke from the heart and said what he believed was right — (applause) — of General James Cartwright, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and Deputy Secretary William Lynn, who is here. (Applause.) Also, the authors of the Pentagon’s review, Jeh Johnson and General Carter Ham, who did outstanding and meticulous work – (applause) — and all those who laid the groundwork for this transition.
And finally, I want to express my gratitude to the men and women in this room who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Services. (Applause.) I want to thank all the patriots who are here today, all of them who were forced to hang up their uniforms as a result of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — but who never stopped fighting for this country, and who rallied and who marched and fought for change. I want to thank everyone here who stood with them in that fight.
Because of these efforts, in the coming days we will begin the process laid out by this law. Now, the old policy remains in effect until Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and I certify the military’s readiness to implement the repeal. And it’s especially important for service members to remember that. But I have spoken to every one of the service chiefs and they are all committed to implementing this change swiftly and efficiently. We are not going to be dragging our feet to get this done. (Applause.)
Now, with any change, there’s some apprehension. That’s natural. But as Commander-in-Chief, I am certain that we can effect this transition in a way that only strengthens our military readiness; that people will look back on this moment and wonder why it was ever a source of controversy in the first place.
I have every confidence in the professionalism and patriotism of our service members. Just as they have adapted and grown stronger with each of the other changes, I know they will do so again. I know that Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, as well as the vast majority of service members themselves, share this view. And they share it based on their own experiences, including the experience of serving with dedicated, duty-bound service members who were also gay.
As one special operations warfighter said during the Pentagon’s review — this was one of my favorites — it echoes the experience of Lloyd Corwin decades earlier: “We have a gay guy in the unit. He’s big, he’s mean, he kills lots of bad guys.” (Laughter.) “No one cared that he was gay.” (Laughter.) And I think that sums up perfectly the situation. (Applause.)
Finally, I want to speak directly to the gay men and women currently serving in our military. For a long time your service has demanded a particular kind of sacrifice. You’ve been asked to carry the added burden of secrecy and isolation. And all the while, you’ve put your lives on the line for the freedoms and privileges of citizenship that are not fully granted to you.
You’re not the first to have carried this burden, for while today marks the end of a particular struggle that has lasted almost two decades, this is a moment more than two centuries in the making.
There will never be a full accounting of the heroism demonstrated by gay Americans in service to this country; their service has been obscured in history. It’s been lost to prejudices that have waned in our own lifetimes. But at every turn, every crossroads in our past, we know gay Americans fought just as hard, gave just as much to protect this nation and the ideals for which it stands.
There can be little doubt there were gay soldiers who fought for American independence, who consecrated the ground at Gettysburg, who manned the trenches along the Western Front, who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima. Their names are etched into the walls of our memorials. Their headstones dot the grounds at Arlington.
And so, as the first generation to serve openly in our Armed Forces, you will stand for all those who came before you, and you will serve as role models to all who come after. And I know that you will fulfill this responsibility with integrity and honor, just as you have every other mission with which you’ve been charged.
And you need to look no further than the servicemen and women in this room — distinguished officers like former Navy Commander Zoe Dunning. (Applause.) Marines like Eric Alva, one of the first Americans to be injured in Iraq. (Applause.) Leaders like Captain Jonathan Hopkins, who led a platoon into northern Iraq during the initial invasion, quelling an ethnic riot, earning a Bronze Star with valor. (Applause.) He was discharged, only to receive emails and letters from his soldiers saying they had known he was gay all along — (laughter) — and thought that he was the best commander they ever had. (Applause.)
There are a lot of stories like these — stories that only underscore the importance of enlisting the service of all who are willing to fight for this country. That’s why I hope those soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have been discharged under this discriminatory policy will seek to reenlist once the repeal is implemented. (Applause.)
That is why I say to all Americans, gay or straight, who want nothing more than to defend this country in uniform: Your country needs you, your country wants you, and we will be honored to welcome you into the ranks of the finest military the world has ever known. (Applause.)
Some of you remembered I visited Afghanistan just a few weeks ago. And while I was walking along the rope line — it was a big crowd, about 3,000 — a young woman in uniform was shaking my hand and other people were grabbing and taking pictures. And she pulled me into a hug and she whispered in my ear, “Get ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ done.” (Laughter and applause.) And I said to her, “I promise you I will.” (Applause.)
For we are not a nation that says, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” We are a nation that says, “Out of many, we are one.” (Applause.) We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. (Applause.) Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today. And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. President!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We’re here, Mr. President. Enlist us now. (Laughter.)
(The bill is signed.)
THE PRESIDENT: This is done. (Applause.)
END 9:35 A.M. EST
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE OCTOBER JOBS REPORT
9:36 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. We are in the middle of a tough fight to get our economy growing faster, so that businesses across our country can open and expand, so that people can find good jobs, and so that we can repair the terrible damage that was done by the worst recession in our lifetimes. Today we received some encouraging news.
Based on today’s jobs report, we’ve now seen private-sector job growth for 10 straight months. That means that since January, the private sector has added 1.1 million jobs. Let me repeat, over the course of the last several months, we’ve seen over a million jobs added to the American economy. In October, the private sector has added 159,000 jobs. And we learned that businesses added more than 100,000 jobs in both August and September as well. So we’ve now seen four months of private-sector job growth above 100,000 [jobs], which is the first time we’ve seen this kind of increase in over four years.
Now, that’s not good enough. The unemployment rate is still unacceptably high and we’ve got a lot of work to do. This recession caused a great deal of hardship and it put millions of people out of work. So in order to repair this damage, in order to create the jobs to meet the large need, we need to accelerate our economic growth so that we are producing jobs at a faster pace.
Because the fact is an encouraging jobs report doesn’t make a difference if you’re still one of the millions of people who are looking for work. And I won’t be satisfied until everybody who is looking for a job can find one. So we’ve got to keep fighting for every job, for every new business, for every opportunity to get this economy moving. And just as we passed a small business jobs bill based on ideas from both parties and the private sector, I am open to any idea, any proposal, any way we can get the economy growing faster so that people who need work can find it faster.
This includes tax breaks for small businesses, like deferring taxes on new equipment, so that they’ve got an incentive to expand and hire, as well as tax cuts to make it cheaper for entrepreneurs to start companies. This includes building new infrastructure, from high-speed trains to high-speed Internet, so that our economy can run faster and smarter. It includes promoting research and innovation, and creating incentives in growth sectors like the clean energy economy. And it certainly includes keeping tax rates low for middle-class families and extending unemployment benefits to help those hardest hit by the downturn while generating more demand in the economy.
It’s also absolutely clear that one of the keys to creating jobs is to open markets to American goods made by American workers. Our prosperity depends not just on consuming things, but also on being the maker of things. In fact, for every $1 billion we increase in exports, thousands of jobs are supported here at home. And that’s why I’ve set a goal of doubling America’s exports over the next five years. And that’s why on the trip that I’m about to take, I’m going to be talking about opening up additional markets in places like India, so that American businesses can sell more products abroad in order to create more jobs here at home.
And this is a reminder as well that the most important competition we face in this new century will not be between Democrats and Republicans. It’s the competition with countries around the world to lead the global economy. And our success or failure in this race will depend on whether we can come together as a nation. Our future depends on putting politics aside to solve problems, to worry about the next generation instead of the next election.
We can’t spend the next two years mired in gridlock. Other countries, like China, aren’t standing still. So we can’t stand still either. We’ve got to move forward.
I’m confident that if we can do that, if we can work together, then this country will not only recover, but it will prosper. And I’m looking very much forward to helping to pry some markets open, help American businesses, and put people back to work here at home during the course of this trip.
Thank you very much.
NATIONAL PROSTATE CANCER AWARENESS MONTH, 2010- – - – - – -
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICAA PROCLAMATION
Although its mortality rate has steadily fallen in the last decade, prostate cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men in the United States. This year alone, nearly 218,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 32,000 men will die from this disease. National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month gives us the opportunity to renew our commitment to fight this disease by finding better ways to prevent, detect, and treat it.
The exact causes of prostate cancer are not known, but awareness can help men make more informed choices about their health. Researchers have identified several factors that may increase a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer, including age, race, and family history. According to the National Cancer Institute, avoiding smoking, losing weight, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising may all help prevent certain cancers. We must ensure that more men are informed about all aspects of this disease, including early detection and possible treatment. I encourage men to talk with their doctors about risk factors, prevention, and preventative screenings. And I invite all Americans to visit Cancer.gov for more information and resources about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of prostate and other cancers.
Until we find a cure for this disease, my Administration will continue promoting awareness of this illness and supportingprostate cancer research and treatment, including research to help determine why prostate cancer affects some racial and ethnic groups more than others. The National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Defense all play vital roles in reducing the burden of prostate cancer through critical investments in research.
The health care reforms included in the landmark Affordable Care Act also address specific needs of individuals fighting cancer, including removing annual and lifetime caps on insurance coverage, prohibiting insurance companies from dropping coverage after an individual gets sick, and guaranteeing insurance coverage for individuals participating in clinical trials, the cornerstone of cancer research.
As we observe National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, we stand by the fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons battling prostate cancer, as well as their families and the health care providers, researchers, and advocates who are working to combatthis disease and save lives. By joining together to raise awareness of prostate cancer and supporting research, we can continue to make progress against this devastating disease.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 2010 as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. I encourage all citizens, Government agencies, private businesses, nonprofit organizations, and other groups to join in activities that will increase awareness and prevention of prostate cancer.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.
Remarks By The President At A Discussion With Ohio Families On The Economy: “We’re Focusing… On Trying To Figure Out Can We Build More Infrastructure Here In Ohio And All Across The Country That Puts People Back To Work”
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT A DISCUSSION WITH OHIO FAMILIES ON THE ECONOMY
10:47 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I am — I’m just thrilled to be here. And I want to thank Joe and Rhonda and the entire family for being such great hosts. And I want to thank all of you for taking the time to be here.
I see the mayor of Columbus is here, a great friend. Somebody who’s going to be running and I hope winning for the U.S. Senate, Lee Fisher is here. And Mary Jo Kilroy is here. We’ve got one of the best senators I believe in the United States Senate in Sherrod Brown — is here. And one of the finest governors in the country, Ted Strickland, is here. So give those folks a big round of applause. (Applause.)
Should we tell them to take off their jackets, too? (Laughter.) Take off your jackets, guys. Lighten up a little bit. Sheesh! (Laughter.)
This is just a great opportunity for me to have a conversation with you. And I don’t want this to be too formal. What I want to do is have a chance to listen to you and also answer your questions. What we’ve tried to do whenever we are in a setting like this is to talk about the things that folks are going through day to day — because, look, I’ll be honest with you, sometimes when you’re in Washington you get caught up with the particular legislative battles or the media spin on certain issues, and sometimes you lose touch in terms of what folks are talking about around the kitchen table.
One of the ways that I stay in touch is through events like this, as well as reading letters from constituents and voters all across the country every night. And obviously what’s on a lot of people’s minds right now is the economy.
We went through the worst recession that we’ve had since the Great Depression. And when I was sworn in about 18 months ago, we had already lost several million jobs and we were about to lose several million more. We lost 800,000 jobs the month I was sworn in. And so we had to act fast and take some emergency steps to prevent the economy from going back into what could have been a Great Depression.
And we were successful in doing so. We stabilized the economy; we stabilized the financial system. We didn’t have a complete meltdown. And whereas we were losing jobs in the private sector when I was first sworn in, we’re now gaining jobs, and we’ve gained jobs seven consecutive months in the private sector. The economy was shrinking about 6 percent; the economy is now growing. So we’ve made progress. But let’s face it, the progress hasn’t been fast enough.
And Joe, Rhonda and I were just talking about the challenges that they’ve had to go through when Rhonda got laid off — and, by the way, also lost her health insurance in the process, at a time when her son was going through some significant medical needs. So, in addition to trying to stop the crisis, what we also wanted to do was make sure that we were helping people get back on their feet. So something that I’m very pleased with is that Rhonda was able to use the provisions that we passed to help her get COBRA so that she had health insurance, could keep her health insurance, at a time when the family was very much in need. And millions of people across the country have been able to keep their health insurance.
We’ve also been trying to help our state and local governments so that they’re not having to lay off as many teachers and firefighters and police officers, and I know that — I think the mayor and the governor would acknowledge that the help that we provided them has really helped to plug some big budget holes.
And, in addition, what we’ve been trying to do is to build infrastructure that puts people back to work but also improves the quality of life in communities like Columbus. So Joe is an architect and he’s now working on a new police station that was funded in part with Recovery Act funds.
So all these things have made a difference. But we still have got a long way to go. And so a couple of things that we’re focused on right now is, number one, making sure that small businesses are getting help, because small businesses like Joe’s architectural firm are really the key to our economy. They create two out of every three jobs. And so we want to make sure that they’re getting financing. We want to make sure that we are cutting their taxes in certain key areas. One of the things that we’ve done, for example, is propose that we eliminate capital gains taxes on small businesses so that when they’re starting up and they don’t have a lot of cash flow, that’s exactly the time when they should get a break and they should get some help.
We’re focusing, as well, on trying to figure out can we build more infrastructure here in Ohio and all across the country that puts people back to work, not just building roads and bridges, but also building things like high-speed rail, or building broadband lines that could connect communities and give people access to the Internet at a time when that’s going to be critical in terms of long-term economic development.
We’re also going to have to look at how do we, over the long term, get control of our deficit. And that’s obviously something that a lot of people have on their minds. The key is to make sure that we do so in a way that doesn’t impede recovery, but rather gives people confidence over the medium and the long term. And I’m going to be happy to talk about what we’re doing in terms of spending.
But overall, the main message that I want to deliver before I start taking questions — and I said this to Joe and Rhonda — is slowly, but surely, we are moving in the right direction. We’re on the right track. The economy is getting stronger, but it really suffered a big trauma. And we’re not going to get all 8 million jobs that were lost back overnight. It’s going to take some time. And businesses are still trying to get more confident out there before they start hiring. And people — consumers — are not going to start spending until they feel a little more confident that the economy is getting stronger.
And so what we’re trying to do is create sort of a virtuous cycle where people start feeling better and better about the economy. And a lot of it is sort of like recovering from an illness; you get a little bit stronger each day and you take a few more steps each day. And that’s where our economy is at right now.
What we can’t afford to do is to start going backwards and doing some of the same things that got us into trouble in the first place. This is why it’s been so important for us, for example, to pass something like Wall Street reform to make sure that we’re not creating the same kinds of financial bubbles and the massive leverage and the reckless risks that helped to create this problem in the first place.
And I am very proud that we’ve got somebody like a Sherrod Brown or a Mary Jo, who worked really tirelessly with us in Congress to make sure that we don’t have a situation where we’ve got to bail out banks that have taken reckless risks; that we are monitoring what’s happening in the financial system a lot more carefully, making sure people aren’t cheated when it comes to their mortgages, or that there are a bunch of hidden fees in their credit cards that helped to create some of the problems that we’ve seen in the financial systems.
We can’t go back to doing things the way we were doing them before. We’ve got to go forward. That’s what we’re trying to do. And hopefully as we continue over the next several months and the next several years, we’re going to see a Columbus and an Ohio and a United States of America that is going to be stronger than it was before this crisis struck. I am absolutely confident of that. But we’ve got more work to do.
All right. So, with that, what I want to do is I just want to open it up and you guys can ask me questions about anything — and just ignore all these cameras who are here. (Laughter.) Pretend they’re not there. The only thing I would ask is introduce yourselves so that I get a chance to know you. Or if you haven’t met one of your neighbors, this is a good chance for you to do so.
Why don’t we start with this gentleman right here. And we’ve got some mics — the only reason — the main reason we’re using mics is so that these folks behind us can hear you. This gentleman right here.
Q Hi, President Obama. I hope I don’t pass out while I’m asking this question, so — my question is actually about health care. My brother is disabled. And he’s definitely what I would consider one of the working poor. He will not mature any more as far as mindset of a 12-year-old. Right now he works washing dishes at a local restaurant and, unfortunately, because the employer does not offer health care insurance, one whole check, which is two weeks’ worth of work, has to actually go towards him just paying for COBRA, which is obviously well out of his budget. But he has to, simply because of various illnesses that he suffers from.
My question is, unfortunately, I’m not able to sit down and read a 2,000-page bill or law that — with all the reform that happened with health care. With the present reforms that went into place, how will that help him? And if it doesn’t, then how will — I know that you’re not done with health care — how will your — the latest changes that you want to happen with health care, how will that help him?
And thank you for doing such a wonderful job.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. Here’s how specifically health reform should help your brother. Number one, it gives an incentive to his employer to provide health insurance — because one of the key components of health care reform was providing employers a 35 percent tax break on the premiums they pay for their employees, all right? So basically it’s cutting his potential costs — the employer’s potential costs for providing your brother with health insurance, it’s cutting it by a third. That’s step number one.
And there are going to be companies out there that say, you know what, we want to provide health insurance, but we just couldn’t afford to do it, but now that it’s costing us up to a third less, saving us thousands of dollars, maybe we should go ahead and provide coverage for that. Okay, so that is step number one.
Step number two is if the employer still doesn’t provide coverage, over the next couple of years your brother is going to be able to join a pool — what we’re calling an exchange — where he can basically buy the same kind of insurance that these members of Congress are buying. And the advantage that he’s going to have is that now he’s part of a pool of millions of people who are buying it all at the same time, which means they’ve got leverage. The same way big companies are able to lower their costs per employee because the insurance company really wants their business, well, now your brother could be part of the same pool that these guys are and that’s going to give leverage, which will lower his rates.
And the final part of it is, if even with these lower rates, this better deal, he still can’t afford it, then we’re going to provide some subsidies to help him. So all those things combined should help make sure that your brother is getting health insurance.
Now, one of the things that I think people may not be aware of is that although this exchange isn’t going to be set up until 2014 — because it takes a while, we’ve got to set it up right — there’s some immediate things that are helping right now. If your child has a preexisting condition, insurance companies, starting this year, will not be able to deny those children coverage. And that’s a big deal for a lot of folks whose children may have diabetes or some other illness and right now can’t get insurance. Insurance companies are going to have to provide them insurance. That’s number one.
Number two, how many people here have kids who are college-age, about to go to college? All right. Well, one of the things you’re going to be able to do is when those kids get out of college, if they don’t get insurance right away, they’re going to be able to stay on your insurance until they’re 26 years old. That’s a big deal because a lot of times that first job or those first couple of jobs out of college are the ones that don’t provide health insurance.
So there are a number of changes that are being made right now that will make those of you who have health insurance more secure with the insurance they have. We’re eliminating lifetime limits. There’s a bunch of fine print on the insurance forms that sometimes have ended up creating real problems for people. Your insurance company decides to drop you right when you get sick, just when you need it most. Those kinds of practices are over now.
And the final aspect of health reform that’s important is, is that by changing the incentives for how doctors get paid under Medicare and under Medicaid, we’re actually encouraging doctors to become more efficient so that over time health care costs actually start leveling out a little bit instead of skyrocketing each and every year. Because everybody here who’s got health insurance, what’s been happening? Your premiums have been going up; co-payments, deductibles, all that stuff has been going up. So we’ve got to actually try to control the costs of it, and part of it is just a matter of making sure that we get a better bang for our health care dollar.
So, for example, when you go to a doctor, we’re still filling out forms in triplicate on paper. It’s the only business there is where you still have a whole bunch of paperwork. And what we’re trying to do is to encourage information technologies so that when you go into a doctor, they can already pull down your medical records electronically. If you take a test, then it’s sent to all the specialists who are involved so you don’t end up having to take four or five tests, and pay for four or five tests, when all you needed was just one.
Those are the kinds of things that will take a little bit longer to actually take into effect, but hopefully over time they’re actually going to lower cost.
All right. I’m going to go boy, girl here to make sure it’s fair. (Laughter.) Right here. Absolutely.
Q Mr. President, I’m concerned about the furor lately that’s been — it’s similar to what’s happened in the past but it’s reemerging, mostly from the Republican Party, but some Democrats — that Social Security needs to be privatized because it’s losing money, and we’re all going to — and it’s going to go broke, and that sort of thing. How would you comment on that?
THE PRESIDENT: I have been adamant in saying that Social Security should not be privatized and it will not be privatized as long as I’m President. (Applause.) And here’s the reason. I was opposed to it before the financial crisis. And what I said was the purpose of Social Security is to have that floor, that solid — rock-solid security, so that no matter what else happens you’ve always got some income to support you in your retirement. And I’ve got no problem with people investing in their 401(k)s, and we want to encourage people to invest in private savings accounts. But Social Security has to be separate from that.
Now, imagine if Social Security, if a portion of that had been in the stock market back in 2006 and 2007. I mean, you saw what happened with your 401(k)s — you lost 20, 30, 40 percent of it. Now, we’ve recovered — in part because of the policies that we put into place to stabilize the situation, the stock market has recovered 60-70 percent of its value from its peak. But if you were really in need last year or the year before, and suddenly you see your assets drop by 40 percent, and that’s all you’re relying on, it would have been a disaster.
So here’s the thing. Social Security is not in crisis. What is happening is, is that the population is getting older, which means we’ve got more retirees per worker than we used to. We’re going to have to make some modest adjustments in order to strengthen it. There are some fairly modest changes that could be made without resorting to any newfangled schemes that would continue Social Security for another 75 years, where everybody would get the benefits that they deserve. And what we’ve done is we’ve created a fiscal commission of Democrats and Republicans to come up with what would be the best combination to help stabilize Social Security for not just this generation, but the next generation.
I’m absolutely convinced it can be done. And as I said, I want to encourage people to save more on their own, but I don’t want them taking money out of Social Security so that people are putting that into the stock market. There are other ways of doing this.
For example, it turns out that if you set up a system with your employer where the employer automatically deducts some of your paycheck and puts it into your 401(k) account, unless you say you don’t want it done, it turns out people save more just naturally. I mean, it’s just kind of a psychological thing. If they take it out of your paycheck, and they automatically take it out, unless you affirmatively say, don’t take it out, you’ll save more than if they ask you, do you want to save, and then you say, nah, I’m going to keep the money. And then you save less.
So that’s just a small change. It’s voluntary, but that in and of itself could end up boosting savings rates significantly. So there are a bunch of ways that we can do — make sure that retirement is more secure. But we’ve got to make sure that Social Security is there not just for this generation but for the next one. Okay?
All right, gentleman’s turn. And by the way, I know that some folks may be hot, and if they are, you guys can always move into the shade.
Q Mr. President, sir, I was born and raised in a good blue-collar town in Toledo, Ohio. I grew up in a union family and I work now for a significant number of pension assets in the labor union market with an investment firm. I think the question I have that most bothers me is what’s important to my people out there that I talk to, and those two things are, the first, what’s going to happen with their pensions, especially those, as you know, in the red and the yellow. The PPA has not exactly been that favorable to them. And the PBGC is not a very good option. My father had to take early retirement. He’s not receiving the maximum amount after decades of hard work and service that he had anticipated.
The second part is I’m not naïve enough to think that just the pensions alone can help save workers. We’ve got 9.5 percent unemployment in this country, at least at last release, and I’m sure as you know, that’s even more — it’s larger than that for the manufacturing industry and us in the Rust Belt — Toledo, Detroit, Cleveland. Obviously we need to put those guys back to work; they need to have man-hours out there. How can we create a sustainable, competitive product at an advantage to make us another leader in the manufacturing and labor force industry going forward, not just to get them back to work for a year or two, sir, but to get to work for the long term so they can grow the market on their own with their own product and their own work?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, this is a great question and it goes to the heart of what our economic strategy has to be. And Senator Brown and Congresswoman Kilroy and others, I know this is their number one concern each and every day. And certainly this is your governor’s number one concern each and every day, is how do we make sure that we’re creating a competitive America in which we aren’t just buying things from other countries, we’re selling things to other countries, and we’re making things here in the United States of America.
Let me give you a couple of examples of areas that I think have enormous promise. Number one is the whole clean energy industry — and Toledo actually is becoming a leader in this, creating good jobs, in areas like solar — building solar panels, wind turbines, advanced battery manufacturing. There is a whole series of huge potential manufacturing industries in which we end up being world leaders and, as a bonus, end up creating a more energy-efficient economy that is also good for the environment.
Now, we made, at the beginning of my term, the largest investment in clean energy in our history. And so there are plants that are opening up all across the country, creating products made in America that are now being shipped overseas. I’ll give you one example, and that’s the advanced battery manufacturing industry. These are the batteries that go into electric cars, or the batteries that are ending up helping to make sure that if you get solar power or wind power, that it can be transmitted in an efficient way.
We have 2 percent of the entire market — 2 percent. By 2015, in five years, we’re going to have 40 percent of that market because of the investments that we made. So one of the advanced battery manufacturing plants that we helped get going with some key loans and support and tax breaks, they’re now putting those batteries into the Chevy Volt. And you combine it then with an entire new U.S. auto industry that is cleaner and smarter and has better designs and is making better products — those are potentially thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of manufacturing jobs. And the Midwest is really poised to get a lot of those jobs. In a town like Toledo where you’ve still got a lot of skilled workers, they are poised to be able to take off on that. But we’ve got to continue to support it.
The other area that I’ve already mentioned is infrastructure. We’ve got about $2 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements that need to be made all across the country — roads, bridges, sewer lines, water mains. It’s crumbling. The previous generation made all these investments that not only put people to work right away but also laid the foundation then for economic growth in the future.
And we used to always have the best infrastructure worldwide. Now, if it comes to rail, we certainly don’t have the best rail system in the world. Our roads in a lot of places aren’t the best. Our airports aren’t the best. Somebody is laughing — they just got — obviously, went through an airport. So we’ve got a lot of work to do on infrastructure. And this is an area where I hope we can get some bipartisan agreement.
It’s hard to get bipartisan agreement these days. But I think the notion that we can put people to work rebuilding America, investing in making stuff here in the United States that — by the way, every time you build a road, that’s not just putting people to work on the actual construction; all those supplies that go into road building, all those supplies that go into a bridge, all those supplies that go into rail, that’s creating a ripple effect all throughout the economy. So I think that’s a second area of great potential.
Last point you made was — had to do with pensions. Look, the truth be told, the way we were handling pensions both in private companies and among public employees, a lot of it wasn’t that different from some of the stuff that was going on in Wall Street, because what happened was — is that these pensions weren’t adequately funded. Some of these companies would underfund it, and then say, well, we’re going to get an 8 percent return or 10 percent return on our pension funds, to make it look like they were adequately funded when they weren’t. That contributed to pension funds chasing a lot of risky investments that promised these high returns that, in fact, were built on a house of cards. So you’re going to see a number of pensions in a number of companies that are under-funded.
Now, we’ve got a mechanism at the federal level that provides a certain percentage backup or guarantee for these pension funds if they fail. But we’re going to have to, I think, work with these private sector companies so that — right now, they’ve become very profitable. Companies are making money right now. We were talking earlier about the economy and how it’s moving slow. Well, corporate profits are doing just fine. They’re holding onto a whole bunch of cash — they’re kind of sitting on it, waiting to see if they can make more money and more opportunity, but they haven’t started hiring yet. One of the things they need to be doing with some of this cash is shoring up their pension funds that are currently under-funded.
It’s a girl’s turn. Yes, right there.
Q Mr. President, tied in with the jobs situation I think is the education system. And it seems to be in a crisis now, and people are not being educated to take these jobs that are going to be created. And I wondered what sort of plans you might have for that.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s a great question. Are you in education?
THE PRESIDENT: No?
Q I’m a nurse.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s important, too.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for the care you give to people all day long. I’m a big fan of nurses.
The thing that will probably most determine our success in the 21st century is going to be our education system. I’ll just give you a quick statistic. A generation ago, we ranked number one in the number of college graduates. We’ve now slipped to number 12 in the number of college graduates. That’s just in one generation. That is putting us at a huge competitive disadvantage. Because, look, companies these days, they can locate anywhere. You’ve got an Internet line, you can set your company up in India, you can set up your company in the Czech Republic — it doesn’t really matter where you are.
And so what that means is a lot of companies are going to look for where can they find the best workforce. And we have to make sure that that is in Columbus, Ohio. We’ve got to make sure that that’s in Toledo. We’ve got to make sure that that’s in the United States of America.
Now, we still have the best universities and the best colleges on Earth. But there are a couple of problems that have come up. First of all, our education starts at K-12. And we’re not doing a good enough job at the K-12 level making sure that all our kids are proficient in math, in science, in reading and writing.
And what we’ve done is we’ve set up something called the Race to the Top, where, although a lot of federal money still flows to schools just based on a formula and based on need, we’ve taken a certain amount of money and we’ve said, you know what, you’ve got to compete for this money. And you’ve got to show us that you’ve got a plan to improve the education system, to fix low-performing schools, to improve how you train teachers — because teachers are the single most important ingredient in the education system — to collect data to show that you’re improving how these kids are learning.
And what’s happened is, is that states all across the country have actually responded really well, and we’ve seen the majority of states change their laws to start doing this bottom-up, grassroots reform of the K-12 system. That’s critical. That’s number one.
The second thing that we’ve got to solve is that college became unaffordable for a lot of people. And Joe and Rhonda, we were just talking — we’re about the same age and we got married I think the same year. Our kids are about the same age. So we’ve kind of gone through the same stuff. And Michelle and I — I don’t know about you guys — we didn’t talk about this — but Michelle and I, we had a lot of debt when we finished school. It was really expensive. And neither of us came from wealthy families, so we just had to take out a bunch of student loans. It took us about 10 years to pay off our student loans. It was actually higher than our mortgage for most of the time.
And I don’t want that burden to be placed on kids right now. Because a lot of them, as a consequence, maybe they decide not to go to college, or, if they do, they end up getting off to a really tough start because their pay just is not going to support the amount of debt that they’ve got.
So here’s what we did. Working with Sherrod, working with Mary Jo, Democrats in Congress — this didn’t get a lot of attention, but we actually completely transformed how the government student loan program works. Originally what was happening was all those loans were going through banks and financial intermediaries. And even though the loans were guaranteed by the government so the banks weren’t taking any risks, they were skimming off billions of dollars in profits.
And we said, well, that doesn’t make any sense. If we’re guaranteeing it, why don’t we just give the loans directly to the students, and we’ll take all that extra billions of dollars that were going to the banks as profits, and we’ll give more loans. And as a consequence, what we’ve been able to do is to provide millions more students additional loans and make college more affordable over time. That’s the second thing.
Third thing we’ve got to do is we’ve got to focus on community colleges, which are a wonderful asset. Not everybody is going to go to a four-year college. And even if you go to a four-year college, you may need to go back and retrain two years — for a year or two, even while you’re working, to keep up, keep pace with new technologies and new developments in your industry. So what we’ve really tried to do is to partner with community colleges, figure out how we can strengthen them, put more resources into them, and link them up to businesses who are actually hiring so that they’re training people for the jobs that exist, as opposed to the jobs that don’t.
One of the problems we’ve had for a lot of young people is they go to college, training for a job, thinking that their job — or thinking there’s a job out there, and actually the economy has moved on. And what we need to do is tailor people’s education so that they are linked up with businesses who say, we need this many engineers, or we need this kind of technical training, and we’ll help design what that training is — so that when that person goes to college and they’re taking out some of those loans to go to college, they know at the end of the road there’s actually going to be a job available to them.
Last thing — math, science, we’ve really got to emphasize those. That’s an area where we’ve really fallen far behind, and our technological competitiveness is going to depend on how well we do in math and science.
Okay. Yes, sir.
Q Mr. President, I am a proud firefighter for the great city of Columbus here in Ohio. (Applause.) Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Joe, did you use to play for Ohio State, man?
Q I must correct you. I was actually part of the National Championship team for Eastern Kentucky University.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, okay, all right.
Q For the national champion, no less. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there you go, okay. But you look like you could — we could put you on the line right now.
Q Oh, that’s what they all say. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Anyway.
Q But, Mr. President, I wanted to talk to you about a couple of things as it pertains to the safety and security of our firefighters. I want to share with you some good news as it pertains to the stimulus and the SAFER Act for which you championed and signed off on.
Locally and from the state standpoint, we had some firefighter jobs that were in jeopardy, up in the hundreds. The stimulus package — I know the state was strapped with its commitment and what it had to with those monies. Some of those areas we weren’t able to be supported in. But because of your administration signing off on the SAFER Act, which is staffing adequate fire and emergency response, you provided over $300 million last year and upped that to over $400 million this year — that had allowed for the jobs in Ohio to come back — the firefighters rather who had jobs to come back and get their jobs back.
In addition to that, the fire act has provided safer equipment for us. We — don’t want to sound cliché, but I’m just your average Joe. But what we do as firefighters, we want to make a significant difference to our citizens here in our community, as well as our lives. That SAFER Act and that fire act has provided us significant equipment — money, funding rather for significant equipment — face pieces, self-contained breathing apparatus, things of those nature. So we come to say how proud we are to be able to afford that opportunity to secure our firefighters.
The international president has sent a appreciative thank you and we would hope that you would find — I know your busy schedule — somewhere around this country — Cincinnati, Akron, Elyria, Niles — have brought back firefighters because of the SAFER Act. And if anywhere along your schedule you have the opportunity, as a symbolic gesture of support, to stop in to those stations, thank those firefighters, we would greatly appreciate that.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you. And as I said, you guys put your lives on the line each and every day. We wanted to make sure that public safety was not being threatened as a consequence of the recession. We’ve done that. We’ve helped to support not just firefighters but also police officers, teachers, other vital services. We’re going to continue to support you. And again, we’re very grateful for everything you do.
And if this is your lovely wife here, we’re grateful to her too because she’s got to — she’s got to put up with you — (laughter) — running off into fires and putting yourself in danger. And I’m sure that makes her a little bit stressed once in a while, but I’m sure she’s very proud of you.
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Anybody else? Yes, go ahead. Here, we’ve got a microphone.
Q Hi, Mr. President. I was actually recently laid off of a position working at our local community college, helping dislocated workers get back and get retrained. But the position was funded on workforce investment dollars and the funding ended. As I look for a new position in social services, one of my concerns is I’m having trouble finding a position that pays enough so that I can pay my bills and also send my daughter to quality childcare. So I was wondering if there’s anything that’s been done to reduce childcare costs.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have a childcare credit in place. We’d like to make it stronger. This is one of those back-and-forths we’ve been having with the Republicans, because we actually think it is a good idea and they don’t. But I think that giving families support who have to work each and every day is absolutely critical.
Now, there’s some companies that are starting to get smart about providing childcare on site for their employees, which makes a huge difference. It’s a huge relief. But those are usually bigger companies. And some of the smaller companies or small businesses don’t have that capacity.
Bottom line is we just got to make sure that we’re providing you more support, primarily through a tax credit mechanism. This is something that we have incorporated in the past in our budget; we haven’t got everything that we’d like done on it. It will be something that we continue to try to work on a bipartisan basis to get the cost of childcare down. There’s another component of this, though, and that’s also boosting the quality of childcare.
Kids learn more from the age of zero to three than they do probably for the rest of their lives — and this goes to the earlier question about education. We want to get them off to a good start knowing their colors and their numbers and their letters and just knowing how to sit still. And a high quality childcare environment can help on that front. But that means that childcare workers, for example, have to be paid a decent wage and get decent training.
And we’ve been working — we set up actually a task force that is trying to lift up the best practices, who is really doing a great job in creating high quality health care — or childcare at an affordable rate, and then trying to teach other states and other cities and other communities how to replicate some of that great progress that’s been made. There are some terrific programs out there, but they’re still too far and few between.
All right, I’ve got time for two more questions. Yes, sir, right here.
Q I work for a company who is benefiting from some stimulus money here in Columbus. And it’s keeping me and my crews afloat for a while. But what we really need is a stronger housing market here in Columbus. We need to be building new roads and making houses affordable for people. They need to get out there buying. They need to be able to get the loans. And what’s up with that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, remember I told you that it’s going to take some time for this economy to come back. One of the reasons it’s going to take time for this economy to come back is the housing market is still a big drag on the economy as a whole. And the reason the housing market is still a big drag on the economy as a whole is we built a lot of homes over the previous five, seven, 10 years. Every year, about 1.4 million families are formed that are ready to buy a new house, or need some place to live.
And what happened over the previous four, five, seven years during this housing bubble was we were building 2 million homes a year when only 1.4 [million] were being absorbed. And then the bubble burst, and now we’re only building 400,000.
And all that inventory that happened during the housing bubble, it’s still out there. So some states are worse than others. You go to places like Nevada or Arizona or Florida, California, their inventory of unsold homes was so high that it is just going to take a whole bunch of years to absorb all that housing stock.
Now, what we can do is to help people who are currently in their homes stay in their homes. We can strengthen the economy overall so that that new family that just formed, they feel confident enough to say, you know what, it’s time, honey, for us to go out and take the plunge and start looking. And right now they’re kind of holding back, the way a lot of people are still holding back, because there’s uncertainty in the market. And we’ve initiated, through the Treasury Department, a number of programs like that to help support the housing market generally.
But I want to be honest with you. It is going to take some time for us to absorb this inventory that was just too high. And there’s no really quick way to do it, because we’re talking about a $5 trillion market. And we can’t plug that big hole in terms of all the housing that needs to be absorbed. We’re not going to be able subsidize all that over-capacity right now.
What we can do is just stabilize it and then improve the economy overall. What we’re going to do is get back to the point where we’re building 1.4 million homes a year, instead of 400,000 — and that’s a huge difference. So the industry is going to come back. The question is can we just nudge it a little bit more. And the most important thing we can do now is to improve the economy overall so that people start feeling a little more confidence.
All right? I’ve got time for one more? You’ve got a question? Here you can use mine.
Q Thank you. I’m the practice manager at an ophthalmology practice at the Eye Center of Columbus, downtown. It is a great facility that the city of Columbus helped us get in place. There are over 30 ophthalmologists providing specialty care in separate practices, a state-of-the-art ambulatory surgery center. We see tens of thousands of patients a year. And I think we do a very efficient job of providing quality care, over 300 people employed. So I’m kind of on both sides of health care.
And when I started working for this practice 25 years ago, we are now getting reimbursed one-third of what we got paid for — I’m just going to pick cataract surgery — yet our operating costs continue to go up. My boss is kind enough to provide health care costs entirely for all of his employees. How does he continue to do that when Medicare continues to reduce what they’re paying, and there’s the threat of more cuts coming and the private insurance companies follow suit?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s a great question. And let me talk about Medicare generally. Medicare I think is one of the cornerstones of our social safety net. The basic idea is, you’ve been working all your life, you retire; just like you’ve got Social Security that you can count on, you’ve also got health care that you can count on and you’re not going to go bankrupt just because you get sick.
But in the same way that Social Security has to be tweaked because the population is getting older, we’ve got to refresh and renew Medicare to make sure that it’s going to be there for the next generation, as well. And the key problems are not just that more people as they retire are going to be part of Medicare. The big problem is just health care inflation generally. The costs of health care keep on skyrocketing.
Now, the way we’ve been dealing with it, which I think is the wrong way to deal with, is basically under-reimbursing our providers. The right way to deal with it is to work with the providers to figure out how can we make the system less wasteful, more efficient overall. And that way we’re paying — your boss, if he’s spending a dollar on care, he’s getting reimbursed a dollar. But we’re also making sure that the care he’s providing is exactly what the person needs, and high quality for a better price.
And that’s part of what health care reform was all about. I’ll just give you a couple examples. One of the things that we were doing in Medicare was we were giving tens of billions of dollars of subsidies to insurance companies under the Medicare Advantage plan, even though that plan wasn’t shown to make seniors any healthier than regular old Medicare.
So we said, all right, we’re not going to end Medicare Advantage, but we are going to have some competitive bidding and we’re going to force the insurance companies to show us, well, what exactly — what value are you adding? How are you helping to make these seniors healthier? And if you’re not helping, then you shouldn’t be getting paid. We should be giving that money to the doctor and the nurse and the other people who are actually providing care, not the insurance companies.
Well, there was a lot of hue and cry about this, but it was absolutely the right thing to do — because now we just found out — the actuaries for Medicare said the changes we’ve already made have extended the life of the Medicare trust fund for another 12 years — which is, by the way, the longest it’s ever been extended as a consequence of a reform effort.
So we’ve made Medicare stronger just with some of the changes that we’ve already made. But you’re absolutely right that we’re going to have to keep on making these changes to continue to make it stronger. And that will affect not just Medicare; it will affect the entire health care system.
Because there’s no doctor out there who doesn’t see Medicare as the $800 gorilla. If Medicare is saying you’ve got to improve your quality and efficiency, then they will because they’ve got a lot of Medicare patients. But they also have a lot of regular patients. So hospitals, doctors, everybody starts getting more efficient as Medicare gets more efficient. The key is making sure that we’re not just cutting benefits.
And, frankly, this is an argument that I have with my friends in the Republican Party sometimes. One big change that some of them have advocated is to voucherize the Medicare system. You basically — instead of once you have Medicare, you knowing that you can take that and go get care anywhere you want, we would just give you — all right, here is whatever it is, $6,000 or $7,000 or whatever. You go shop and figure out what kind of best deal you can get.
The problem is, is that if Medicare costs — if health care costs keep on going up but your voucher doesn’t keep on going up, you’re going to be in trouble. And suddenly, you’ve got seniors who find themselves way short of what they need in terms of providing care.
We’ve got to change how the health care system actually operates. And that means more prevention — more preventive care. It means better — that we reimburse people for checkups. It means we reimburse doctors when they’re consulting with people on things like smoking cessation and weight control and exercise.
There are a whole bunch of things that can make us healthier, reduce our costs overall. But unfortunately, the system doesn’t incentivize them right now. We need to change that.
Anybody have any last burning question? That was technically the last question. But this has to be like one that you’re just, man, I really need an answer for.
Q I’ve got a very general question.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, go ahead.
Q It’s a very general question, here. I work on Wall Street. I was wondering what kind of changes we can expect to see in the reform in the next couple years.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, here’s the essential components of Wall Street reform that we set up. Number one is that we got a — we had a system in which there was huge amounts of leverage that banks could take. And what leverage means is, if they got a dollar in deposits, they were making a $40 bet using that one dollar — which when times are good means you’re making a lot of money, right? You’re putting one dollar down of your own money, and you got $40, and when the market is going up, you’re making out like a bandit. But when the market goes down, when it starts de-leveraging, you’re in trouble. And that’s basically what happened with Lehman’s and a lot of these other companies.
So one thing that we’ve said is that we’ve got to have — for big firms that are what we call “systemic,” that if they go down, the whole system could go down with them — we’ve got to have a better check and say, you know what, you’ve got to control a little bit how you work in terms of leverage. You’ve got to have enough capital, actual money, to cover the bets that you’re placing so that you’re not putting the whole system at risk. That’s number one.
Number two, there’s a whole derivatives market out there, which, frankly, even the bankers don’t completely understand. But you’ve got trillions of dollars — and if you work on Wall Street you’re familiar obviously with the derivatives market. I mean, you’ve got trillions of dollars that are basically outside of the regulated banking system, and people didn’t know who’s making bets on what. And what we said was that derivatives market, it needs — it can continue, but it’s got to be in an open, transparent marketplace so that everybody knows who is betting on what.
And we’re very clear about who the various parties are in these complex derivatives transactions. That means the regulators can follow it a little more closely. That’s number two.
The third thing that we did is we made sure that we don’t have taxpayer bailouts again. So we’ve set up a system whereby if a big firm gets in trouble, we’re able to essentially quarantine it, separate it out from the rest of the pack, liquidate it without it spilling over into the system as a whole. That’s the third thing.
And the fourth thing is having a consumer financial protection agency that is really going to do a good job making sure that consumers know what they’re getting when it comes to financial products. I mean, when you buy a toaster, there has been some assurance provided that that toaster will not explode in your face — right? There are a whole bunch of laws in there, people have to do tests on the toasters to make sure that nothing happens. But if you buy a mortgage that explodes in your face because you didn’t know what was going on, everybody acts like, well, that’s your problem.
Well, no, it’s actually all of our problem, because part of the reason we had this financial crisis was because people did not always understand the financial instruments that they were purchasing. A lot of these subprime loans that were being given out, a lot of these no-interest — you can buy your house, you don’t put any money down, you don’t pay any interest, you got this beautiful house — and naturally people were thinking, well, this sounds great. But what they weren’t looking at was, okay, there’s a balloon payment five years down. This is only going to work if your housing — the value of your house keeps on appreciating. And if it stops appreciating, suddenly it’s not going to work anymore. People hadn’t thought through all those ramifications. And that had an effect on the whole system.
So what we’ve said is we’re going to have a strong consumer finance protection agency whose only job is to look after you when it comes to financial products. And Joe and Rhonda and I were just talking about how it was only seven, eight years ago when Michelle and I were trying to figure out our student loans, how were we going to invest for the kids’ college education. We had — at the end of the month, I’d be getting my credit card bills, and I’m a pretty smart guy, but you open up some of those credit card bills — you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t read all that fine print. You just look at the statement.
Well, as an example of the kinds of things that this new agency are going to be enforcing, we’ve already passed a law — thanks again to Mary Jo and Sherrod — we’ve already passed a law that says a credit card company can’t raise the interest rates on existing balances. So it can’t attract you with a zero percent interest, you run up a $3,000 balance, and then suddenly they send you your next statement and it says, oh, your interest went up to 29 percent. You can’t do that. I mean, they’ll still be able to say, we’re going to raise your interest rate to 29 percent, but that can only be the balances going forward. It can’t be on the money that you borrowed where you thought it was a zero percent.
Well, that’s an example of straightforward, honest dealing that we’re going to be expecting. We think the financial markets will still make money, the banks can still make money, but they got to make money the old-fashioned way, which is loan money to small businesses who are providing services to the community. Loan money to Joe for his architectural firm, and he’s going to make sure you pay him back. Loan people for mortgages, but make sure that you’ve done the due diligence so that you’re not tricking them into something they can’t afford. Make sure that it’s something that you can afford — right?
They’re just a bunch of basic, common-sense reforms that we’re putting in place that will allow the market to function. Because the free market is the best system ever devised for creating wealth, but there have got to be some rules in the road so that you’re making money not by gaming the system, but by providing a better product or a better service. All right?
Well, listen, I want to thank all of you for spending the time. I know it got a little warm, and you guys just hung in there like troopers. I want to make sure that I thank, once again, Ted Strickland, Sherrod Brown, Mayor Michael Coleman, your lieutenant governor, and I believe the next United States senator, Lee Fisher, and Mary Jo Kilroy for being here. And obviously, I want to thank Joe and Rhonda Weithman and the whole Weithman family for sharing their backyard.
And we’re going to have to make sure that we’re helping their lawn here. It got trampled on a little bit. I hope you guys are not stepping in the corn. (Laughter.) Michelle, by the way, would be very proud to see that you’ve got the vegetable garden working. All right? Give them a big round of applause, everybody. (Applause.)
Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
Oh, and by the way, I just want you to know that the Weithmans made me the “O” in O-h-i-o. It’s on tape. It’s on tape somewhere. (Applause.)
Remarks By President Obama At Iftar Dinner: ” I Believe That Muslims Have The Same Right To Practice Their Religion As Everyone Else In This Country”
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT IFTAR DINNER
State Dining Room
8:37 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everybody. Welcome. Please, have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House. To you, to Muslim Americans across our country, and to more than one billion Muslims around the world, I extend my best wishes on this holy month. Ramadan Kareem.
I want to welcome members of the diplomatic corps; members of my administration; and members of Congress, including Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Andre Carson, who is one of two Muslim American members of Congress, along with Keith Ellison. So welcome, all of you.
Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties and seders and Diwali celebrations. And these events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs.
These events are also an affirmation of who we are as Americans. Our Founders understood that the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of our people was to protect their freedom to practice religion. In the Virginia Act of Establishing Religion Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.” The First Amendment of our Constitution established the freedom of religion as the law of the land. And that right has been upheld ever since.
Indeed, over the course of our history, religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have had the right to worship as they choose -– including the right to believe in no religion at all. And it is a testament to the wisdom of our Founders that America remains deeply religious -– a nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in stark contrast to the religious conflict that persists elsewhere around the globe.
Now, that’s not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -– particularly New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.
But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. (Applause.) And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.
We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -– from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we’re fighting against, and what we’re fighting for. Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam -– it’s a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders -– they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion -– and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.
So that’s who we’re fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms -– it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race, or religion, or wealth, or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us –- and that way of life, that quintessentially American creed, stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.
In my inaugural address I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus —- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and every culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And that diversity can bring difficult debates. This is not unique to our time. Past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, and stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be -– and will be -– today.
And tonight, we are reminded that Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity. And Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan —- making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago. (Applause.)
Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came to forge their future here. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories. They helped lay the railroads. They helped to build America. They founded the first Islamic center in New York City in the 1890s. They built America’s first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota. And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America —- still in use today —- is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Today, our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans. They excel in every walk of life. Muslim American communities —- including mosques in all 50 states —- also serve their neighbors. Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders. Muslim American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it. And Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military. At next week’s iftar at the Pentagon, tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery.
These Muslim Americans died for the security that we depend on, and the freedoms that we cherish. They are part of an unbroken line of Americans that stretches back to our founding; Americans of all faiths who have served and sacrificed to extend the promise of America to new generations, and to ensure that what is exceptional about America is protected -– our commitment to stay true to our core values, and our ability slowly but surely to perfect our union.
For in the end, we remain “one nation, under God, indivisible.” And we can only achieve “liberty and justice for all” if we live by that one rule at the heart of every great religion, including Islam —- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
So thank you all for being here. I wish you a blessed Ramadan. And with that, let us eat. (Applause.)
Statement by the President on the Passage of the Southwest Border Security Bill
I have made securing our Southwest Border a top priority since I came to office. That is why my administration has dedicated unprecedented resources and personnel to combating the transnational criminal organizations that traffic in drugs, weapons, and money, and smuggle people across the border with Mexico. Today’s action by Congress answers my call to bolster the essential work of federal law enforcement officials and improve their ability to partner with state, local, and tribal law enforcement. The resources made available through this legislation will build upon our successful efforts to protect communities along the Southwest border and across the country. And this new law will also strengthen our partnership with Mexico in targeting the gangs and criminal organizations that operate on both sides of our shared border. So these steps will make an important difference as my administration continues to work with Congress toward bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders, and restore responsibility and accountability to our broken immigration system.
Fact Sheet on the President’s Strategic and Integrated Southwest Border Security Strategy:
The President will sign into law a comprehensive plan to secure the Southwest border, including $600 million in supplemental funds for enhanced border protection and law enforcement activities, offset by cancelling $100 million from the SBInet program within DHS. Though not specifically provided in this bill, the President has also authorized the deployment of up to an additional, requirements-based 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, a deployment that has already begun.
$600 Million in Additional Resources
The Administration has secured $600 million in supplemental funds which will be utilized to enhance technology at the border, share information and support with state, local, and tribal law enforcement, and increase DOJ and DHS presence and law enforcement activities at the border, to include increased agents, investigators, and prosecutors, as part of a multi-layered effort to target illicit networks trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons, and money. The supplemental is fully offset by cancelling $100 million from the SBInet program within DHS and from a temporary increase to the fraud prevention and detection fees for some employers seeking high skilled foreign workers.
Department of Homeland Security
· The supplemental provides $394 million for the Department of Homeland Security. The bill includes $244 million to hire new and maintain existing levels of Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection Officers, $32 million for two new unmanned aerial detection systems, $6 million for forward operating bases for Border Patrol agents, $14 million for tactical communications to support enforcement activities, and $80 million for new ICE agents and supporting investments along the border, and $8 million to train new law enforcement staff.
Department of Justice
The supplemental provides $196 million for the Department of Justice to surge federal law enforcement officers in the Southwest border region and the temporary deployment of personnel to high crime areas. Location of assignments will be operationally dependent. Specifically, Justice funding would increase the presence of federal law enforcement in the Southwest border districts by adding seven (7) ATF Gunrunner Teams, five (5) FBI Hybrid Task Forces, additional DEA agents, equipment, operational support, and additional attorneys including over thirty (30) prosecutors and immigration judges. It also would provide additional funds for detention and incarceration of criminal aliens in coordination with Department of Homeland Security enforcement activities.
The supplemental request would also provide funding to support Mexican law enforcement operations with ballistic analysis, DNA analysis, information sharing, technical capabilities, and technical assistance, including over twenty (20) Deputy US Marshals dedicated to the Mexican Investigative Liaison Program and the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) to address cross-border investigations.
Additional National Guard Deployment
The President has also authorized the deployment of up to an additional 1,200 National Guard troops to the border to provide intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance support; and immediate support to counternarcotics enforcement until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border.
Unprecedented Resources Already Being Dedicated
The Obama Administration has dedicated an unprecedented amount of resources to securing the border and combating the flows of drugs, weapons, and cash on the borders. During the past year, since the Southwest Border Initiative was launched, the Administration has:
Doubled the personnel assigned to Border Enforcement Security Task Forces by deploying additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents;
Tripled the number of ICE intelligence analysts focused on cartel violence along the Southwest border;
Quintupled deployments of ICE Border Liaison Officers.
Begun screening, for the first time, 100 percent of southbound rail shipments for illegal weapons, drugs, and cash;
Deployed thousands of technology assets along the Southwest Border and currently has 150 operational aerial assets along the Southwest border.
Deployed two new DEA SWB enforcement groups in El Paso and Phoenix, and added 25 new DEA intelligence analysts;
Deployed two new FBI Border Corruption Task Forces in Del Rio and Houston.
Added 200 new U.S. Marshal service positions including Deputy U.S. Marshals and Asset Forfeiture Criminal Investigators at the Southwest Border to increase fugitive apprehension and cross border violent crime response; to identify and seize the financial assets of the cartels; to increase court security and prisoner operations; and to investigate and mitigate security threats and improve security awareness for judiciary and other court personnel;
Surged ATF agents to Arizona to target gun trafficking to Mexico.
Hired nearly 50 additional Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys to prosecute drug and arms trafficking and bulk cash smuggling by the Mexican cartels, and added five DOJ attorneys to focus exclusively on extradition requests from Mexico. There were 107 extraditions from Mexico to the United States in 2009, a record, compared to 12 in 2000;
Increased cooperation with U.S. and Mexican law enforcement to target money laundering and bulk-cash smuggling, including $50 million in DOJ grants to federal, state, and local law enforcement, a 120-day multifaceted ICE operation, and the hiring of a DOJ prosecutor dedicated exclusively to targeting money laundering cases in and to Mexico;
Resumed DOJ asset-sharing of forfeited proceeds with the Mexican government as a result of successful bi-lateral criminal investigations;
Trained 5,462 Mexican prosecutors and investigators at the state and federal level and in the executive and judicial branches, on target to reach 9,261 trained by the end of 2010;
Planned the expansion of El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) to include additional staffing to collect, analyze and disseminate intelligence and support law enforcement operations against a broad array of transnational threats; and
· Repositioned $80 million of existing resources in the Border Security Fencing, Infrastructure, and Technology account to higher priority replacement and repair of fences to enhance physical infrastructure along the Southwest border.
These strategic initiatives are producing meaningful results. The Administration has:
Seized, through the combined efforts of CBP and ICE, more than $103 million in illegal currency, more than 1.7 million kilograms of drugs and more than 1,400 firearms – increases of more than $47 million, more than 450,000 kilograms of drugs and more than 300 firearms compared to 2008.
Seized, through the combined efforts of CBP and ICE, more than $39.2 million in southbound illegal currency – an increase of more than $29.4 million compared to 2008.
DOJ-led multi-agency law enforcement investigations (which may include DEA, FBI, ATF, ICE, CBP, and others) “Project Deliverance” resulted in more than 2,200 arrests, seizure of approximately 74 tons of drugs and $154 million in U.S. currency; “Project Coronado” resulted in the arrest of 303 individuals in 19 states and seizure of $3.4 million in U.S. currency, 729 pounds of methamphetamine, 62 kilograms of cocaine, 967 pounds of marijuana, 144 weapons and 109 vehicles; “Operation Xcellerator” resulted in the arrest of more than 750 individuals on narcotics-related charges and the seizure of more than 23 tons of narcotics and more than $59 million in cash;
Additionally, the San Diego DHS Maritime Unified Command, composed of U.S. Coast Guard, CBP, ICE, DEA and other law enforcement partners, saw a more than six-fold increase in maritime drug interdictions in the Pacific waters extending from the Southwest border—seizing 57,437 pounds of drugs in Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 compared to 8,884 pounds seized in FY 2008. Already in FY 2010, the Coast Guard has seized 11,500 pounds of drugs across the San Diego sector.
Statistics reflect a significant reduction in the number of people attempting to cross U.S. borders illegally. CBP statistics show that illegal immigration into the United States is down, with apprehensions between points of entry having dropped as a result.
Since 2004, the Border Patrol has doubled in size to over 20,000 Border Patrol agents.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT THE SIGNING OF THE MANUFACTURING ENHANCEMENT ACT OF 2010
3:07 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. Everybody please have a seat.
Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the White House. From the day I took office, my administration’s highest priority has been to rescue our economy from crisis, rebuild it on a new foundation for lasting growth, and do everything we can, every single day, to help the American people whose lives have been upended by a brutal recession.
Now, we knew from the beginning that reversing the damage done by the worst financial crisis and the deepest recession in generations would take some time — more time than anyone would like. And we knew that it would require an ongoing effort across all fronts.
Now, the challenges we face have been confirmed not just by the economic data that we’ve seen since last spring, when events in Europe roiled the markets and created headwinds for our economic recovery. They’re also confirmed every day in the conversations that I have with folks around the country, and in the letters that I read at night — stories of Americans who are still looking for work, and the men and women who are still struggling to grow their businesses and hire in these challenging times.
So while we have fought back from the worst of this recession, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve still got a long way to go. And I’m more determined than ever to do every single thing we can to hasten our economic recovery and get our people back to work. So that’s why I’m pleased today to sign into law a bill that will strengthen American manufacturing and American jobs. And as I do, I’m joined by two members of my economic team — Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, who’s been a tireless advocate for America’s manufacturers; and Ambassador Ron Kirk, who’s been doing a great job and putting in a lot of miles as our U.S. Trade Representative.
Few areas of our economy have been as hard-hit as manufacturing — not just in recent years, but in recent decades. Throughout the 20th century, manufacturing was the ticket to a better life for generations of American workers. It was the furnace that forged our middle class. But over time, the jobs dried up. Companies learned to do more with less, and outsourced whatever they could. Other nations didn’t always live up to trade agreements and we didn’t always enforce them. And over the last decade, the manufacturing workforce shrank by 33 percent, leaving millions of skilled, hardworking Americans sitting as idle as the plants that they once worked in. This was before the recent recession left them and millions more struggling in ways they never imagined.
Now, some suggest this decline is inevitable, that the only way for America to get ahead is to leave manufacturing communities and their workers behind. I do not see it that way. The answer isn’t to stop building things, to stop making things; the answer is to build things better, make things better, right here in the United States. We will rebuild this economy stronger than before and at its heart will be three powerful words: Made in America.
For too long, we’ve been buying too much from the rest of the world, when we should be selling more to the rest of the world. That’s why, in my State of the Union address, I set an ambitious goal for this country. Over the next five years, we are going to double our exports of goods and services, an increase that will grow our economy and support millions of American jobs. We’ve got a lot of work to do to reach this goal. Our economy has fallen into the habit of buying from overseas and not selling the way it needs to. But it is vitally important that we reverse that trend. After all, 95 percent of the world’s customers and the world’s fastest-growing markets are beyond our borders. And when the playing field is even, American workers can compete with anybody. And we’re going to compete aggressively for every job, for every industry, and every market out there.
That’s why we fought for and passed tax breaks for companies that are investing here in the United States rather than companies that are keeping profits offshore. That’s why we closed loopholes that encourage corporations to ship American jobs overseas. That’s why we’re enforcing our trade laws — in some cases, for the very first time. That’s why we told America’s automakers that if they made the tough decisions required to compete in the future, that America would stand by them. And that’s why we’re investing in a clean energy industry and the jobs that come with it -– jobs that pay well and carry America to a cleaner, more secure and more energy-independent future.
Now, already we’re beginning to see some of these investments pay off. I’ve seen it myself in factories where American workers are now manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels, components for the advanced batteries of tomorrow.
I’ve seen it in retooled auto plants where American workers are building high-quality, fuel-efficient cars and trucks that can go toe to toe with any in the world. In fact, for the first time in more than five years, the Big Three are operating at a profit, and the auto industry has added 76,000 jobs since last June -– that’s the strongest period of job growth in more than 10 years.
So overall, the manufacturing sector has actually added 183,000 jobs so far this year. That’s the strongest seven months of manufacturing job growth in more than a decade. Instead of plants leaving America to set up shop overseas, we’ve actually begun to see the opposite -– a growing number of firms setting up shop and hiring here at home.
So we’re not yet where we need to be, but there are some good trends out there. And we can’t let up. We’ve got to keep moving forward. That’s why today, I’m signing a bill into law that will make it cheaper and easier for American manufacturers and American workers to do what they do best: build great products and sell them around the world.
The Manufacturing Enhancement Act of 2010 will create jobs, help American companies compete, and strengthen manufacturing as a key driver of our economic recovery. And here’s how it works. To make their products, manufacturers — some of whom are represented here today — often have to import certain materials from other countries and pay tariffs on those materials. This legislation will reduce or eliminate some of those tariffs, which will significantly lower costs for American companies across the manufacturing landscape -– from cars to chemicals; medical devices to sporting goods. And that will boost output, support good jobs here at home, and lower prices for American consumers.
This bill passed both houses of Congress on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis, and I want to thank Democrats and Republicans for coming together on behalf of America’s businesses and workers. And before I sign it into law, I want to take this opportunity to encourage that same kind of bipartisan spirit on another step that will create jobs and move America forward.
The extraordinary growth we’ve seen in the clean energy sector is due first and foremost to the entrepreneurial drive of our businesses and our workers. But it’s also due to the fact that we invested in them. One of these investments came in the form of clean energy manufacturing tax credits. What we said to clean energy firms was, if you’re willing to put up 70 percent of the capital for a worthy endeavor, we’ll put up the other 30 percent. That means that for every dollar we invest, we leverage more than two private sector dollars.
The only problem we have is, these credits worked so well, there weren’t enough to go around. More than 180 clean energy projects in over 40 states received $2.3 billion in tax credits, but the program was such a success that we received 500 qualified applications for $8 billion in tax credits.
I believe that if an American company wants to innovate, grow, and create jobs right here in the United States, we should give them the support they need to do it. That’s why I’m urging Congress, once again, to invest $5 billion in these clean energy manufacturing tax credits. It’s an investment that will generate $12 billion or more in private sector investment and tens of thousands of new jobs.
And as I’ve said before, the nation that wins the race for the clean energy economy will lead the 21st century economy. Other nations know this. They’ve been investing heavily in that future. They want those jobs. But the United States of America doesn’t play for second place. We compete to win. And we will win this if we move forward free of politics, focused on just what it takes to get the job done.
This is an idea that already has bipartisan support, but it’s been delayed for months. So my simple message is, don’t let politics get in the way of doing what’s right for our economy and for our future. And don’t bet against the American worker or lose faith in American industry. This is a nation that has always been proud of what it builds, and it is that spirit that’s going to lead our recovery forward.
We’ve been through tough times before, and it is precisely in those times that we rebuilt, we retooled, we recaptured the ingenuity and resilience that makes this nation so great. That’s how our predecessors built the first American century. That’s how we’ll build the next. And it’s in that spirit that I will now sign this bill into law. Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)
(The bill is signed.)
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT TOWN HALL WITH YOUNG AFRICAN LEADERS
2:07 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, everybody, please have a seat. Have a seat.
Well, good afternoon, everybody.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
THE PRESIDENT: Welcome to the White House, and welcome to the United States of America. And that includes even our friends from Ghana, who beat us in the World Cup. (Laughter.) Where are you? Over there? That’s all right. It was close. We’ll see you in 2014. (Laughter.)
It’s my great privilege to welcome all of you to this Young African Leaders Forum. You’ve joined us from nearly 50 countries. You reflect the extraordinary history and diversity of the continent. You’ve already distinguished yourselves as leaders —- in civil society and development and business and faith communities —- and you’ve got an extraordinary future before you.
In fact, you represent the Africa that so often is overlooked — the great progress that many Africans have achieved and the unlimited potential that you’ve got going forward into the 21st century.
Now, I called this forum for a simple reason. As I said when I was in Accra last year, I don’t see Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world. Whether it’s creating jobs in a global economy, or delivering education and health care, combating climate change, standing up to violent extremists who offer nothing but destruction, or promoting successful models of democracy and development —- for all this we have to have a strong, self-reliant and prosperous Africa. So the world needs your talents and your creativity. We need young Africans who are standing up and making things happen not only in their own countries but around the world.
And the United States wants to be your partner. So I’m pleased that you’ve already heard from Secretary of State Clinton, and that we’re joined today by leaders from across my administration who are working to deepen that partnership every day.
I can’t imagine a more fitting time for this gathering. This year, people in 17 nations across Sub-Saharan Africa are proudly celebrating 50 years of independence. And by any measure, 1960 was an extraordinary year. From Senegal to Gabon, from Madagascar to Nigeria, Africans rejoiced in the streets —- as foreign flags were lowered and their own were hoisted up. So in 12 remarkable months, nearly one-third of the continent achieved independence —- a burst of self-determination that came to be celebrated as “The Year of Africa” — at long last, these Africans were free to chart their own course and to shape their own destiny.
Now, 1960, of course, was significant for another reason. Here in the United States of America it was the year that a candidate for president first proposed an idea for young people in our own country to devote a year or two abroad in service to the world. And that candidate was John F. Kennedy, and that idea would become the Peace Corps — one of our great partnerships with the world, including with Africa.
Now, the great task of building a nation is never done. Here in America, more than two centuries since our independence, we’re still working to perfect our union. Across Africa today, there’s no denying the daily hardships that are faced by so many — the struggle to feed their children, to find work, to survive another day. And too often, that’s the Africa that the world sees.
But today, you represent a different vision, a vision of Africa on the move — an Africa that’s ending old conflicts, as in Liberia, where President Sirleaf told me, today’s children have “not known a gun and not had to run”; an Africa that’s modernizing and creating opportunities — agribusiness in Tanzania, prosperity in Botswana, political progress in Ghana and Guinea; an Africa that’s pursuing a broadband revolution that could transform the daily lives of future generations.
So it’s an Africa that can do great things, such as hosting the world’s largest sporting event. So we congratulate our South African friends. And while it may have been two European teams in the final match, it’s been pointed out that it was really Africa that won the World Cup.
So once again, Africa finds itself at a moment of extraordinary promise. And as I said last year, while today’s challenges may lack some of the drama of 20th century liberation struggles, they ultimately may be even more meaningful, for it will be up to you, young people full of talent and imagination, to build the Africa for the next 50 years.
Africa’s future belongs to entrepreneurs like the small business owner from Djibouti who began selling ice cream and now runs his own accounting practice and advises other entrepreneurs — that’s Miguil Hasan-Farah. Is Miguil here? There he is right there. Don’t be shy. There you go. (Applause.)
As you work to create jobs and opportunity, America will work with you, promoting the trade and investment on which growth depends. That’s why we’re proud to be hosting the AGOA Forum this week to expand trade between our countries. And today I’ll also be meeting with trade, commerce, and agriculture ministers from across Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s also why our historic Food Security Initiative isn’t simply about delivering food; it’s about sharing new technologies to increase African productivity and self-sufficiency.
Now, no one should have to pay a bribe to get a job or to get government to provide basic services. So as part of our development strategy, we’re emphasizing transparency, accountability, and a strong civil society — the kind of reform that can help unleash transformational change. So Africa’s future also belongs to those who take charge of that kind of transparency and are serious about anti-corruption measures.
Africa’s future belongs to those who take charge of their health, like the HIV/AIDS counselor from Malawi who helps others by bravely sharing her own experience of being HIV-positive — that’s Tamara Banda. Where is Tamara? There she is right there. Thank you, Tamara. (Applause.) So our Global Health Initiative is not merely treating diseases; it’s strengthening prevention and Africa’s public health systems. And I want to be very clear. We’ve continued to increase funds to fight HIV/AIDS to record levels, and we’ll continue to do what it takes to save lives and invest in healthier futures.
Africa’s future also belongs to societies that protects the rights of all its people, especially its women, like the journalist in Ivory Coast who has championed the rights of Muslim women and girls —- Aminata Kane-Kone. Where is Aminata? There she is right there. (Applause.) To you and to people across Africa, know that the United States of America will stand with you as you seek justice and progress and human rights and dignity of all people.
So the bottom line is this: Africa’s future belongs to its young people, including a woman who inspires young people across Botswana with her popular radio show, called, “The Real Enchilada” —- and that’s Tumie Ramsden. Where’s Tumie? Right here — “The Real Enchilada.” (Applause.)
As all of you go to — as all of you pursue your dreams —- as you go to school, you find a job, you make your voices heard, you mobilize people —- America wants to support your aspirations. So we’re going to keep helping empower African youth —- supporting education, increasing educational exchanges like the one that brought my father from Kenya in the days when Kenyans were throwing off colonial rule and reaching for a new future. And we’re helping to strengthen grassroots networks of young people who believe — as they’re saying in Kenya today -— “Yes, Youth Can!” “Yes, Youth Can!” (Laughter and applause.)
Now, this is a forum, so we’ve devoted some time where I can answer some questions. I don’t want to do all the talking. I want to hear from you about your goals and how we can partner more effectively to help you reach them. And we want this to be the beginning of a new partnership and create networks that will promote opportunities for years to come.
But I do want to leave you with this. You are the heirs of the independence generation that we celebrate this year. Because of their sacrifice, you were born in independent African states. And just as the achievements of the last 50 years inspire you, the work you do today will inspire future generations.
So — I understand, Tumie, you like to Tweet. (Laughter.) And she shared words that have motivated so many — this is what Tumie said: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, to learn more, to do more and become more, then you are a leader.”
So each of you are here today because you are a leader. You’ve inspired other young people in your home countries; you’ve inspired us here in the United States. The future is what you make it. And so if you keep dreaming and keep working and keep learning and don’t give up, then I’m confident that your countries and the entire continent and the entire world will be better for it.
So thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)
All right, with that, I’m going to take questions. Now, here are the rules — (laughter.) People, everybody who has a question, they can raise their hand. In order to be fair, I’m going to call girl, boy, girl, boy. We’re going to alternate. And try to keep your question relatively short; I’ll try to keep my answer relatively short, so I can answer as many questions as possible, because we have a limited amount of time. Okay?
I’m going to start with this young lady, right here. And please introduce yourself and tell me where you’re from also
Q Okay. Thank you very much. I will express myself in French, if that is –
THE PRESIDENT: That’s fine. Somebody will translate for me? Yes? Go ahead. Just make sure that you stop after each sentence, because otherwise she will forget what you had to say.
Q Thank you very much. (Speaks in French and is translated.) Mr. President, hello. And hello, everybody. I’m Fatima Sungo (phonetic) of Mali. I do have a question for you and I look forward to getting your answer. But before I do so, I’d like to begin by telling you, Mr. President, how truly honored and privileged we feel to be with you today, and how privileged we are to express the voices of African youth, of African young leaders, and of course fully appreciate your recognizing us and giving us the opportunity to be here, and also recognizing our own responsibility to take your voice back home.
I’d like to say that I’m convinced this is an important watershed moment, this is the beginning of important change, the wonderful initiative you had to call us all here. I wonder when did you see that particular light? When did you imagine that bringing us here would be such a good idea? I’m wondering what your thought process was, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, one of the things that happens when you’re President is that other people have good ideas and then you take credit for them. (Laughter.) So I want to make sure that I don’t take credit for my ideas — for these ideas — because the truth is my staff works so hard in trying to find new ways that we can communicate not just to the heads of state, but also at the grassroots.
And the reason, I think, is because when you think about Africa, Africa is the youngest continent. Many of the countries that you represent, half of the people are under 30. And oftentimes if all you’re doing is talking to old people like me, then you’re not reaching the people who are going to be providing the energy, the new initiatives, the new ideas. And so we thought that it would be very important for us to have an opportunity to bring the next generation of leaders together.
That’s point number one. Point number two — and I’m going to be blunt occasionally during this forum, so I hope you don’t mind — sometimes the older leaders get into old habits, and those old habits are hard to break. And so part of what we wanted to do was to communicate directly to people who may not assume that the old ways of doing business are the ways that Africa has to do business.
So in some of your countries, freedom of the press is still restricted. There’s no reason why that has to be the case. There’s nothing inevitable about that. And young people are more prone to ask questions, why shouldn’t we have a free press? In some of your countries, the problem of corruption is chronic. And so people who have been doing business in your country for 20, 30 years, they’ll just throw up their hands and they’ll say, ah, that’s the way it is.
But Robert Kennedy had a wonderful saying, where he said, some people see things and ask why, and others see things that need changing and ask, why not. And so I think that your generation is poised to ask those questions, “Why not?” Why shouldn’t Africa be self-sustaining agriculturally? There’s enough arable land that if we restructure how agriculture and markets work in Africa, not only could most countries in Africa feed themselves, but they could export those crops to help feed the world. Why not?
New infrastructure — it used to be that you had to have telephone lines and very capital intensive in order to communicate. Now we have the Internet and broadband and cell phones, so you — the entire continent may be able to leapfrog some other places that were more highly developed and actually reach into the future of communications in ways that we can’t even imagine yet. Why not?
So that’s the purpose of this. I also want to make sure that all of you are having an opportunity to meet each other, because you can reinforce each other as you are struggling and fighting in your own countries for a better future. You will now have a network of people that help to reinforce what it is that you’re trying to do. And you know that sometimes change makes you feel lonely. Now you’ve got a group of people who can help reinforce what you’re doing.
Okay. It’s a gentleman’s turn. This is why there are leaders, everybody has something to say. But you don’t have to snap. No, no, no. It’s a guy’s turn — this gentleman right here.
Q Mr. President, my name is Bai Best (phonetic) from Liberia. The late Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller was the first black — the first black psychiatrist in America and probably in the world. In my country in Liberia, where there are a lot of great people who make landmark accomplishments both in their nation and in the world, many of them are not recognized for their accomplishments. Today, Dr. Fuller’s name is etched where there is a medical — there is a psychiatric center named in his honor at a place in Boston. There are many other young African and young Liberian talented people who have great ideas and who want to come back home and contribute to their countries, to the development of their peoples. But many times, their efforts — their patriotic efforts — are stifled by corrupt or sometimes jealous officials in government and in other sectors. It’s an age-old problem. Many times, they want to seek — that basically leads them to seek greener pastures and better appreciation abroad instead of coming back home. What are your thoughts on this?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, this is a problem that’s not unique to Africa. Given different stages of development around the world, one of the problems that poorer countries often have is that the best educated and the most talented have opportunities elsewhere. And so there’s what’s called the “brain drain” — people saying, I can make 10 times as much money if I’m a doctor in London as I can if I’m a doctor back home.
And so this is a historic problem. Here is the interesting moment that we’re in, though — if you look at where the greatest opportunities are, they’re actually now in emerging markets. There are countries in Africa that are growing 7, 8, 9 percent a year. So if you’re an entrepreneur now with an idea, you may be able to grow faster and achieve more back home that you could here.
Now, it entails greater risk, so it may be safer to emigrate. But it may be that you can actually achieve more, more quickly back home. And so the question is for young leaders like yourselves, where do you want to have the most impact? And you’re probably going to have more impact at home whether you’re a businessman or woman, or you are a doctor or you are an attorney, or you are an organizer. That’s probably going to be the place where you can make the biggest change.
Now, you’re absolutely right, though, that the conditions back home have to be right where you can achieve these things. So if you want to go back home and start a business, and it turns out that you have to pay too many bribes to just get the business started, at some point you may just give up.
And that’s why one of the things that we’re trying to do — working with my team — when we emphasize development, good governance is at the center of development. It’s not separate. Sometimes people think, well, that’s a political issue and then there’s an economic issue. No. If you have a situation where you can’t start a business or people don’t want to invest because there’s not a clear sense of rule of law, that is going to stifle development.
If farmers have so many middlemen to get their crops to market that they’re making pennies when ultimately their crops are being sold for $10, over time that stifles agricultural development in a country. So what we want to do is make sure that in our interactions with your governments, we are constantly emphasizing this issue of good governance because I have confidence that you’ll be able to figure out what changes need to be made in your country.
I’ve always said the destiny of Africa is going to be determined by Africans. It’s not going to be determined by me. It’s not going to be determined by people outside of the continent. It’s going to be determined by you. All we can do is make sure that your voices are heard and you’re able to rise up and take hold of these opportunities. If you do that, I think that there are going to be a lot of people who — even if they’re educated abroad — want to come home to make their mark.
All right. Let’s see, I’m going to call on this young lady right here.
Q (Speaks in Portuguese and is translated.) Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you, Mr. President, for this opportunity.
THE PRESIDENT: That sounds like Portuguese. (Laughter.)
Q It is, indeed, from Mozambique, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Great.
Q Knowing, Mr. President, that, of course, America is a reference point for democracy in the world, and that you, sir, are, indeed a protagonist in that context today, I would love to hear from you, sir, what you would recommend to the young people in Africa and to civil society, in particular, in terms of following principles of nonviolence and good governance and democratic principles in our country. Because, of course, our reality is very often quite starkly different. There are 80 percent abstentionism often in elections, and elections that, indeed, lack transparency. And all too often lead, alas, to social conflict. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, first of all, that if you are — just as I said that you can’t separate politics from economics, you can’t separate conflict from development. So the constant conflict, often ethnically-based conflict, that has taken place in Africa is a profound detriment to development and it’s self-reinforcing.
If you have conflict and violence, that scares off investors. That makes it more difficult for business people to create opportunities, which means that young people then don’t have work, which means that they are more prone to be recruited in violent conflicts. And you can get a vicious cycle.
So I am a profound believer in not looking at violence as a solution to problems. And I think the moral and ethical power that comes with nonviolence when properly mobilized is profound.
Number two, I think the most important thing that maybe young people here can do is to promote the values of openness, transparency, honest debate, civil disagreements within your own groups and your own organizations, because that forms good habits. If you are part of an organization — and I’m going to speak to the men here, in particular — if you are part of an organization where you profess democracy but women don’t have an equal voice in your organization, then you’re a hypocrite, right? And that is something that — (applause.) And that is something that we have to be honest about. Oftentimes, women are not getting the same voice in African countries, despite the fact that they are carrying more than their fair share of burdens.
So within your own organizations, within your own networks, modeling good democratic practices, listening to people who you disagree with respectfully, making sure that everybody gets a seat at the table — all those things I think are very important.
Because part of what I’m going to — what I’m hoping for is that some of you will end up being leaders of your country some day. And if you think about it, back in the 1960s, when all these — your grandparents, great-grandparents were obtaining independence, fighting for independence, the first leaders, they all said they were for democracy. And then what ends up happening is you’ve been in power for a while and you say, well, I must be such a good ruler that it is for the benefit of the people that I need to stay here. And so then you start changing the laws, or you start intimidating and jailing opponents. And pretty soon, young people just like yourself — full of hope and promise — end up becoming exactly what they fought against.
So one of the things that I think everybody here has to really internalize is the notion that — I think it was Gandhi who once said you have to be the change that you seek. You have to be the change that you seek. And one of the wonderful things about the United States is that in my position as President there oftentimes where I get frustrated, I think I know more than some of my critics. And yet, we have institutionalized the notion that those critics have every right to criticize me, no matter how unreasonable I think they may be. And I have to stand before the people for an election, and I’m limited to two terms — it doesn’t matter how good a job I do. And that’s good, because what that means is that we’ve got to — we’ve instituted a culture where the institutions of democracy are more important than any one individual.
And, now, it’s not as if we’re perfect. Obviously, we’ve got all kinds of problems as well. But what it does mean is that the peaceful transfer of power and the notion that people always have a voice — our trust in that democratic process is one that has to be embraced in all your countries as well.
Okay? All right, it’s a gentleman’s turn. Let me try to get this side of the table here. This gentleman right here. I’m not going to get everybody, so I apologize in advance.
Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. I’m from Malawi. Mr. President, HIV/AIDS is greatly affecting development in Africa. And if this continues, I’m afraid I think Africa has no future. And I think the young people like us must bring change. And we really need a strong HIV prevention program. But, again, access to treatment must be there.
I attended the recent World AIDS Conference in Vienna, and the critics were saying that the worst — the U.S. government is not supporting enough HIV/AIDS work in Africa through the PEPFAR and the Global Fund. But, again, on the other side, other HIV/AIDS activists are saying that Africa on its own has not mobilized enough resources to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic and they are largely depending on the West.
I think the challenge for us as African young leaders is to make sure that this comes to an end and we really need to reduce the transmission. I don’t know — from your perspective, what can we do to make sure that this comes to a stop? Otherwise, it’s greatly affecting development in Africa.
THE PRESIDENT: Good. Well, let me start by just talking about the United States and what we’re doing. I had some disagreements with my predecessor, but one of the outstanding things that President Bush did was to initiate the PEPFAR program. It’s a huge investment in battling HIV/AIDS both with respect to prevention and also with respect to treatment. Billions of dollars were committed. We have built off of that.
So when you hear critics — what the critics are saying is that although I’ve increased the funding of the PEPFAR program, they would like to see it increased even more, which I’m sympathetic to, given the fact that the need is so great. But understand I’ve increased it; I haven’t decreased it — at a time when the United States is suffering from the worst economic — just coming out of the worst economic recession that we’ve seen since the 1930s. Nevertheless, because of our commitment to this issue, we’ve actually increased funding.
Now, we have couched it in a broader initiative we call the Global Health Initiative. Because even as we’re battling HIV/AIDS, we want to make sure that we are thinking not only in terms of treatment, but also in terms of prevention and preventing transmission.
We’re never going to have enough money to simply treat people who are constantly getting infected. We’ve got to have a mechanism to stop the transmission rate. And so one of the things we’re trying to do is to build greater public health infrastructure, find what prevention programs are working, how can we institutionalize them, make them culturally specific — because not every program is going to be appropriate for every country.
I will say that in Africa, in particular, one thing we do know is that empowering women is going to be critical to reducing the transmission rate. We do know that. Because so often women, not having any control over sexual practices and their own body, end up having extremely high transmission rates.
So the bottom line is we’re going to focus on prevention, building a public health infrastructure. We’re still going to be funding, at very high levels, antiviral drugs. But keep in mind, we will never have enough money — it will be endless, an endless effort if the transmission rates stay high and we’re just trying to treat people after their sick.
It’s the classic story of a group of people come upon all these bodies in a stream. And everybody jumps in and starts pulling bodies out, but one wise person goes downstream to see what’s exactly happening that’s causing all these people to drown or fall in the water. And that’s I think what we have to do, is go downstream to see how can we reduce these transmission rates overall.
And obviously — when I visited Kenya, for example — just in terms of education — Michelle and I, we both got tested near the village where my father was born. We got publicly tested so that we would know what our status was. That was just one example of the kinds of educational mechanisms that we can use that hopefully can make some difference.
All right? Okay, it’s a woman’s turn. Okay, this one right here.
Q Thank you, very much, Mr. President. And greetings from Ghana. We are looking forward fervently to 2014 – (laughter) — for a repeat. And I recollect that I was hosting a radio program the day of the match. And we have a football pundit in Ghana — he doesn’t speak English quite well, but very passionate. And so I was interviewing him about what the psyche of our boys should be ahead of the match. And he said to me, “This is not war, it is football. If it were to be war, then maybe we should be afraid because the might of America is more than us.” (Laughter.) This is football. They should go out there and be the best that they could be. And they did.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they did an excellent job. They were a great team.
Q Mr. President, my question now is that I hear a lot of young African leaders wonder how committed America would be to a partnership. I hear those who are cynical about the notion of partnership. They ask — and always they ask, partnership? What kind of fair partnership can exist between a strong and a weak nation?
And so as we prepare ourselves for the future, we ask the same question of America: How committed is your country to ensuring that the difficult decisions that young people have to make about trade, about agriculture, about support, are made — to the extent that they may not be in the interest of America? Because they tell me also that America will protect its interest over and above all else. Is America committed to ensuring a partnership that might not necessarily be beneficial to America, but truly beneficial to the sovereign interest of the countries that we represent?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say this. All countries look out for their interests. So — and I’m the President of the United States, so my job is to look out for the people of the United States. That’s my job, right? (Applause.)
Now, I actually think, though, that the interests of the United States and the interests of the continent of Africa greatly overlap. We have a huge interest in seeing development throughout Africa — because we are a more mature economy, Africa is a young and growing economy, and if you can buy more iPods and buy more products and buy more services and buy more tractors from us, that we can sell to a fast-growing continent, that creates jobs here in the United States of America.
We have a huge interest in your public health systems because if we’re reducing greatly HIV/AIDS transmissions in Africa, then that will have a positive effect on HIV rates internationally, because of the transmigration of diseases back and forth in an international world. And not to mention, if I’m not spending all this money on PEPFAR, that’s money I can spend somewhere else. So I’m going to be incentivized to see Africa do well. That’s in our interest.
And the truth of the matter is, is that whereas with some regions of the world, we do have some genuine conflicts of interest — let’s say on trade, for example — the truth is that the United States, we don’t have huge conflicts when it comes to trade because, frankly, the trade between the United States and Africa is so small, so modest, that very few U.S. companies, U.S. commercial interests are impacted.
That’s why AGOA, our trade arrangement with Africa — we can eliminate tariffs and subsidies and allow all sorts of goods to come in partly because you are not our primary competition.
Now, I don’t want to pretend that there aren’t ever going to be conflicts. There will be. There’s going to be difference in world views. There are going to be some agricultural products where there are certain interests in the United States or there are certain interests in Europe that want to prevent those from coming in, even though, in the aggregate, it would not have a huge impact on the U.S. economy. And so there are going to be occasional areas of tension. But overall, the reason you should have confidence that we want a partnership is because your success will enhance our position rather than reduce it.
Also Africa has some of our most loyal friends. Every survey that’s taken, when you ask what continent generally has the most positive views about America, it turns out Africa generally has a positive view of America and positive experiences. So I think that you should feel confident even if I’m not President that the American people genuinely want to see Africa succeed.
What the American people don’t want is to feel like their efforts at helping are wasted. So if at a time of great constraint, we are coming up with aid, those aid dollars need to go to countries that are actually using them effectively. And if they’re not using them effectively, then they should go to countries that are.
And one of the things that I’ve said to my development team is I want us to have high standards in terms of performance and evaluation when we have these partnerships — because a partnership is a two-way street. It means that, on the one hand, we’re accountable to you and that we have to listen to you and make sure that any plans that we have, have developed indigenously. On the other hand, it also means you’re accountable. So you can’t just say, give me this, give me that, and then if it turns out that it’s not working well, that’s not your problem. Right? It has to be a two-way street.
Okay, looks like this side has not gotten a question here. So how about this gentleman right here.
Q Thank you, Mr. President — I’m from Zimbabwe. Currently our government is in a transition between the former ruling party Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change. And within this same context, Zimbabwe is currently under restrictive measures, especially for those who are party in line with Robert Mugabe under the ZIDERA Act. How has been the success of ZIDERA — the formation of the inclusive government? Because in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe is still using the rhetoric of sanctions, racist, property rights abuse, human rights abuse, in violation to the rule of law. How has been the success of that towards the implementation — the success or the growth of young people?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you probably have a better answer than me. So you should be sharing with our team what you think would make the most sense. I’ll be honest with you — I’m heartbroken when I see what’s happened in Zimbabwe. I think Mugabe is an example of a leader who came in as a liberation fighter and — I’m just going to be very blunt — I do not see him serving his people well. And the abuses, the human rights abuses, the violence that’s been perpetrated against opposition leaders I think is terrible.
Now, Changerai has tried to work — despite the fact that he himself has been beaten and imprisoned, he has now tried to work to see if there is a gradual transition that might take place. But so far, the results have not been what we had hoped.
And this always poses a difficult question for U.S. foreign policy because, on the one hand, we don’t want to punish the people for the abuses of a leader; on the other hand, we have very little leverage other than saying, if there are just systematic abuses by a government, we are not going to deal with them commercially, we’re not going to deal with them politically, in ways that we would with countries that are observing basic human rights principles.
And so there have been discussions when I’ve traveled with leaders in the Southern African region about whether or not sanctions against Zimbabwe are or are not counterproductive. I will tell you I would love nothing more than to be able to open up greater diplomatic relationships and economic and commercial relationships with Zimbabwe. But in order to do so, we’ve got to see some signal that it will not simply entrench the same past abuses but rather will move us in a new direction that actually helps the people.
And Zimbabwe is a classic example of a country that should be the breadbasket for an entire region. It’s a spectacular country. Now, it had to undergo a transition from white minority rule that was very painful and very difficult. But they have chosen a path that’s different than the path that South Africa chose.
South Africa has its problems, but from what everybody could see during the World Cup, the potential for moving that country forward as a multiracial, African democracy that can succeed on the world stage, that’s a model that so far at least Zimbabwe has not followed. And that’s where I’d like to see it go. All right?
How much more time do I have, guys? Last question? I’m sorry — last question. Last question. No, it’s a young lady’s turn. This one right here.
Q Good afternoon, Mr. President, your excellencies. I am from Somalia. I came all the way here with one question, and that is, living in conflict in a country that has confused the whole world, and being part of the diaspora that went back to risk our lives in order to make Somalia a better place, especially with what we’re going through right now — how much support do we expect from the U.S.? And not support just in terms of financially or aid, but support as an ear, as a friend, as somebody who hears and listens to those of us who are putting our lives and our families at risk to defend humanity.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think you will have enormous support from the people of the United States when it comes to trying to create a structure and framework in Somalia that works for the Somali people.
Now, the history of Somalia over the last 20 years has been equally heartbreaking, if not more so. You have not had a effective, functioning government that can provide basic services. It’s been rife with conflict. And now the entire region is threatened because of radical extremists who have taken root in Somalia, taking advantage of what they perceive to be a failing state, to use that as a base to launch attacks, most recently in Uganda.
And obviously the United States expresses its deepest condolences to the lives that were lost in Kampala — at the very moment of the World Cup. And it offered two contrasting visions. You have this wonderful, joyous celebration in South Africa at the same time as you have a terrorist explosion in Kampala.
So we desperately want Somalia to succeed. And this is another example of where our interests intersect. If you have extremist organizations taking root in Somalia, ultimately that can threaten the United States as well as Uganda, as well as Kenya, as well as the entire region.
So right now you’ve got a transitional government that is making some efforts. I don’t think anybody expects Somalia anytime in the next few years to suddenly be transformed into a model democracy. Whatever governance structures take place in Somalia have to be aware of the tribal and traditional structures and clan structures that exist within Somalia. But certainly what we can do is create a situation where people — young people are not carrying around rifles, shooting each other on the streets. And we want to be a partner with Somalia in that effort, and we will continue to do so.
And some of it is financial, some of it is developmental, some of it is being able to help basic infrastructure. In some cases, we may try to find a portion of the country that is relatively stable and start work there to create a model that the rest of the country can then look at and say, this is a different path than the one that we’re taking right now.
But in the end, I think that this metaphor of the success of the World Cup and the bombing shows that each of you are going to be confronted with two paths. There’s going to be a path that takes us into a direction of more conflict, more bloodshed, less economic development, continued poverty even as the rest of the world races ahead — or there’s a vision in which people come together for the betterment and development of their own country.
And for all the great promise that’s been fulfilled over the last 50 years, I want you to understand — because I think it’s important for us to be honest with ourselves — Africa has also missed huge opportunities for too long. And I’ll just give you one example.
When my father traveled to the United States and got his degree in the early ’60s, the GDP of Kenya was actually on partner, maybe actually higher than the GDP of South Korea. Think about that. All right? So when I was born, Kenya per capita might have been wealthier than South Korea. Now it’s not even close. Well, that’s 50 years that was lost in terms of opportunities. When it comes to natural resources, when it comes to the talent and potential of the people, there’s no reason why Kenya shouldn’t have been on that same trajectory.
And so 50 years from now, when you look back you want to make sure that the continent hasn’t missed those opportunities as well. We want to make sure of that as well. And the United States wants to listen to you and work with you. And so when you go back and you talk to your friends and you say, what was the main message the President had — we are rooting for your success, and we want to work with you to achieve that success, but ultimately success is going to be in your hands. And being a partner means that we can be there by your side, but we can’t do it for you.
Okay, thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.)