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12 Ways a Fiscal "Grand Bargain" Could Screw the Poor

As the fiscal cliff looms, there's a consensus that, one way or another, the rich are going to have to pay up. But that doesn't mean the poor are home free. Any "grand bargain" budget deal will be just that—a deal, which means that even though Democrats want to shield social programs from cuts, they will inevitably end up as bargaining chips on the table.

Obama's starting point for negotiations is the deficit plan that came out of the 2011 debt-ceiling showdown. It already contains heavy cuts in discretionary spending, which is spending on stuff that is not entitlements, including military and domestic programs. And 25 percent of that domestic spending goes to programs that help low-income people, according to Richard Kogan, a federal budget expert and senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Obama and the Democrats have been pretty set against cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and long-term unemployment benefits. However, Rep. Paul "62-percent-of-my-proposed-budget-cuts-come-from-poor-people-programs" Ryan will likely be leading the charge on the other side of the aisle. He won't be able to chop up the safety net to his liking, but he and his fellow Republicans will do what they can. 

Kogan says that even though a final budget deal is likely not to eliminate tax benefits for the poor, it will almost certainly include deeper cuts to lots of social programs. Here are 12 possible targets (program costs are from 2012 unless otherwise noted):

Medicaid ($258 billion): Though Obama has largely targeted providers for potential Medicaid cuts, Republicans want beneficiaries to fork over more. In which case, says Kogan, patients might be forced to make copayments, or program costs may be shifted to the states, which could decide to scale back coverage.

Food Stamps ($78 billion in 2011): The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program serves about 45 million people. It is not part of discretionary spending, but Ellen Nissenbaum, senior vice president for government affairs at CBPP, told The Nation it faces a real prospect of being cut in negotiations.

Supplemental Security Income ($47 billion): Social Security itself is mostly off the table, but Supplemental Security Income for the blind, elderly, and disabled, is likely to take a hit, according to Nissenbaum.

Unemployment benefits extension in 2013 ($40 billion): If long-term unemployment benefits are allowed to expire at the end of the year, some 2 million jobless will be affected. Kogan says "there will be some extension, because that's just brutal. It's just a question of how much."

Pell Grants ($36 billion): These need-based grants help some 10 million low-income students afford college. 

Section 8 Housing Assistance ($19 billion): Section 8 vouchers allow more than 2 million super low-income families to afford decent housing in the private market. 
Job Training ($18 billion in 2009): Loads of federal job training programs help millions of seniors, Native Americans, farm workers, veterans, young people, and displaced or laid-off workers with career development.

Head Start ($7.9 billion):  The program, which helps kids from disadvantaged homes be better prepared to start school, had about a million enrollees in 2010. Research has shown that Head Start generates real long-term benefits for participants. 

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program ($3.47 billion): In 2011, about 23 million poor folks got help paying the winter heating bills through LIHEAP.

Community Health Centers ($3.1 billion): In 2011, more than 20 million patients, 72 percent of whom were below the poverty line, got healthcare through federally-supported community health centers.

Title 1 Education Grants ($322 million): Under the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts serving a big percentage of low-income kids get financial assistance to help them meet state academic standards.

Women, Infants, and Children ($7.2 million in 2011): The Department of Agriculture's WIC program helps low-income moms and babies get access to supplemental nutrition and health care referrals. WIC has about 9 million participants, most of whom are kids.

Source: Mother Jones

President Obama Holds a Cabinet Meeting (video/transcript)

HE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  Is that brighter than usual?  (Laughter.)  Yes, that's serious.  

Well, listen, this is a wonderful opportunity for me to meet with my full Cabinet for the first time since the election took place.  The primary purpose from my perspective is to say thank you, because everybody here, in their respective agencies, has done a remarkable job on behalf of the American people, across the board on a wide range of issues.  They’ve always prioritized how do we make sure that we have a strong middle class, how do we grow our economy, how do we put people back to work, and how do we keep the American people safe and continue to extend our influence and our ideals around the world.  And I could not have a better collection of people, many of whom have stayed here throughout my first term.  And I think we’ve had as little turnover as any President during the course of a first term, and the reason is because everybody has done such a remarkable job.

So my main purpose is to say thank you to them, but also to remind them that we’ve got a lot of work to do.  There are going to be a few specific issues that we spend a lot of time on.  One in particular that I should note is that the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy is still being felt by families all across New York and New Jersey, parts of Connecticut.  We are very pleased that under the leadership initially of Janet Napolitano and FEMA, but now Shaun Donovan, who’s heading up a task force, we’re focusing not only on recovery, but now on rebuilding and making sure those communities come back stronger than ever and people get the help that they need.  So that will be an important topic because it’s really going to be an interagency concern.

The second thing that we’ll be talking about, obviously, is what’s on the minds of a lot of American families across the country, and that is making sure that we’ve got this fiscal cliff dealt with and that middle-class taxes don’t go up.  I already spoke extensively about that today.  I’ll just repeat:  There is no reason why taxes on middle-class families should go up.  It would be bad for the economy.  It would be bad for those families.  In fact, it would be bad for the world economy.  And so I think it’s very important that we get that resolved, and I am very open to a fair and balanced approach to reduce our deficit and provide the kind of certainty that businesses and consumers need so that we can keep this recovery going.

And obviously, we’ll be spending some time talking about national security issues as well.  

But I just want to say thank you to this extraordinary Cabinet for a job well done.  And I will take this opportunity to publicly embarrass two members of the Cabinet whose birthdays are either today or tomorrow:  Ric Shinseki, who is the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Happy birthday to you.  And that is actually today.  (Applause.)  And Janet Napolitano’s birthday is tomorrow.  (Applause.)

All right, guys.  Thank you.  We want to get back to work.

Q    Mr. President, do you think the Hill is being fair to Susan Rice in its meetings?

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much guys.

Q    Any thoughts on that at all?

THE PRESIDENT:  Susan Rice is extraordinary.  I couldn’t be prouder of the job that she’s done as the USPR.  (Applause.)


Educating Black Boys (video)

Tony Harris takes a personal look at Baltimore's inner city and an education system failing black Americans.

Source:Al Jazeera 

Baltimore, Maryland has come to be known as 'Charm City' because of its harbor, which attracts a vibrant nightlife and thriving tourism business.

But just beyond the harbour's calm waters is one of the toughest and most violent inner cities in the US.

Baltimore is also home to Al Jazeera presenter Tony Harris and in this episode of Al Jazeera Correspondent he takes us on an up close and personal journey to his old neighbourhood to witness the challenges facing black youth today as they struggle to get out of the dead end of life on inner city streets.
Most of the crime in Baltimore is committed by black males with other blacks as victims, making black males an easy target for the police.

And many believe that the stereotyping of black kids starts at an early age in the US - as early as grade school. In this film, Harris examines how the education system has failed black boys and reflects upon why he managed to make it out successfully while so many of his friends did not.

A visit to his former high school reveals the desperation felt by both the pupils and the teachers.

"School and criminal justice systems biased against black boys; all echoes of my childhood. But I managed to avoid the trap of Baltimore's cycle of poverty and violence," he explains. "But now I was going back to my hometown to get to the bottom of what I considered the new civil rights fight in America - educating black boys."

Filibuster reform: The Senate is filled with hypocrites

Don't believe the GOP's charges of hypocrisy on filibuster reform -- both parties are guilty

In their war to preserve the filibuster, Senate Republicans have deployed two main arguments, neither of which makes much sense. The first is a threat to gum up the Senate even more than it is now if their right to stymie things is diminished. That’s a bit like a child refusing to clean up his room, then threatening to make his room even messier if his parents don’t abide his temper tantrum.

The other argument is that Democrats are being hypocritical in calling for reform, because they defended the filibuster just a few short years ago when they were in the minority, and thus their efforts should be dismissed out of hand. “Then-Sen. Obama thought it would be wrong to make the changes when the Republicans were in the majority; then-Sen. [Joe] Biden thought it was a bad idea when the Democrats were in the minority; and Harry Reid thought it was an awful idea when he was in the minority because he said no one group should be able to run roughshod over the other group,” said Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso, who holds the No. 4 position in the GOP leadership.

On this count, Republicans are absolutely right. In 2005, when the Republican majority threatened to unilaterally override a Democratic filibuster of President Bush’s judicial nominations, the minority labeled the move the “nuclear option” and warned of all sorts of apocalyptic scenarios if the GOP pushed the proverbial button.
“If there were ever an example of an abuse of power, this is it … The filibuster is the last check we have against the abuse of power in Washington,” said Reid, who was then the minority leader.
“To basically trample and trench on those long-standing historic rules, I think, would disrupt the Senate in a way that would make it extremely difficult for it to function in any meaningful way for the rest of the session,” said liberal lion Ted Kennedy, in language that could easily come out of a Republican colleague’s mouth today.

Longtime Senate Democrat Robert Byrd even invoked the nuclear option of rhetoric. “Some in the Senate are ready to callously incinerate each senator’s right of extended debate … Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality,” Byrd said on the Senate floor. Ultimately, Republicans backed down and didn’t go nuclear (the Senate parliamentarian said he would oppose the move, but the majority leader can overrule him).

But Republicans are equally guilty of changing their tune. On Monday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got in a testy exchange with Reid on the Senate floor over Democrats’ desire to change the rules by a simple 51-vote majority. Doing so would mean ”breaking the rules to change the rules,” McConnell said.

However, he was for the idea before he was against it. “The current Senate majority intends to do what the majority in the Senate has often done — use its constitutional authority under Article 1, Section 5 to reform Senate procedure by a simple majority,” McConnell said on the Senate floor in 2005.

You could find a similar speech railing against the minority’s abuse of the filibuster and supporting a simple majority rule from almost every Republican senator still in the chamber today. Senate Republicans released a report that year via the Senate Republican Policy Committee (RPC), the sort of official think tank of caucus controlled by the party leadership, explaining how a simple majority can change the rules. They even called it the “constitutional option,” the same name Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico gave to his filibuster reform plan that is gaining traction in the Democratic caucus.

Mysteriously, the 2005 GOP report has disappeared from the Web. Now, when you search the Senate Republican Policy Committee website for “filibuster” you get a recent report that states: “Any assertion by Senate Democrats that a rules change would require a simple majority vote ignores the plain language of the Senate Rules.” Unfortunately for Republicans, Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, then the chairman of the RPC, decided to enter the 2005 report into the Congressional Record, where it will live forever (ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser also excerpted the report last year, apparently before it was removed). A sample:
This constitutional option is well grounded in the U.S. Constitution and in Senate history. The Senate has always had, and repeatedly has exercised, the constitutional power to change the Senate’s procedures through a majority vote.
So what are we to make of this? Which side has the moral high ground in the filibuster fight? Neither. They’ve both alternately opposed and supported the filibuster depending on whether they were in the minority. One could argue that Republicans have abused the filibuster more than Democrats since losing their majority in 2006, but that’s beside the point
What is clear, as Steve Kornacki explained this morning, is that the filibuster needs to be reformed regardless of who holds the majority. The status quo is simply unsustainable.


Timeline: 20 years of climate conferences - Interactive - Al Jazeera English

Timeline: 20 years of climate conferences - Interactive - Al Jazeera English

Hopes grow on shrinking ozone hole

Some scientists believe the ozone layer, protecting earth from the sun's ultraviolet radiation, could be recovering.

Argentine scientists agree that there are signs of recovery of the ozone layer that protects life on earth by filtering out the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, but they are cautious about saying that the problem is on its way to a solution.

“This year was benign, but the problem has not been solved. The ozone hole could expand to a record size in 2013,” Gerardo Carbajal, head of the Department of Atmospheric Monitoring and Geophysics (VAyGEO), said.

According to Carbajal, whose department is part of the National Meteorological Service, “this year the ozone hole was one of the smallest ever and it closed up earlier than expected, but we’ll have to wait and see before we can speak of a trend.”

Similarly, Susana Díaz, an engineer with the Southern Centre for Scientific Research (CADIC), said that “in recent years we have observed a slight decrease of the ozone deficit within the so-called ‘hole’.”

Díaz is a member of the state National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) and heads the CADIC Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Laboratory in Ushuaia, the capital of the province of Tierra del Fuego, the most southerly in the country.

Protective covering
Measurements are made there of the ultraviolet rays that filter down over the city, to record the impact of the radiation during the season of ozone hole expansion in the stratosphere, which occurs from September to mid-November.

Ozone is a gas in the stratosphere, between 15 and 35 kilometres above the earth’s surface, which protects the biosphere by absorbing UV rays that are harmful to human health and plant and animal life.

Exposure to high levels of UV radiation can cause a higher incidence of skin cancer and eye problems in the population of affected areas, like southern Argentina and Chile.
“This year the ozone hole season was much shorter than in earlier years, and lasted only two days above Ushuaia. In other seasons it has lasted for 10 days, and it has been felt further north, in Patagonia,” said Guillermo Deferrari, a biologist at CADIC.

The size of the ozone hole varies. Some years it has covered an area of 30 million square kilometres, but in the last few weeks it has extended over 22 million square kilometres – still an area larger than all of South America.

According to the scientific consensus, the thinning of the ozone layer over Antarctica was mainly due to the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemical substances used in the manufacturing of aerosols and refrigerants.

When this evidence was confirmed in the 1970s, countries signed the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, and in 1987 they approved the Montreal Protocol. These treaties were ratified by the largest number ever of United Nations members and set a timetable for phasing out and eliminating CFCs.

Levels 'stable'
Twenty-five years after the Montreal Protocol was approved, industry has substituted CFCs by hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which, while they do not harm the ozone layer, are greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming.

Meanwhile, there are other substances that destroy ozone and have not been replaced, such as methyl bromide, a pesticide, which in the Protocol is only scheduled for complete elimination in 2015.

Deferrari, who operates equipment at CADIC for measuring UV radiation over Ushuaia, said that “the levels are stable now, with no observed increase in the destruction of the ozone layer.”
He agreed with colleagues that this improvement cannot be said to be a trend, and that the ozone hole could grow again next year, because it depends on meteorological conditions in Antarctica as well. He said, however, that there are clear “signs of recovery”.

The observations confirm the findings of the latest report on the issue by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), published in 2010.

The study, Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion 2010, concluded that CFC elimination was having an effect and the ozone hole was not growing – a sign of recovery.

However, Deferrari pointed out that “we have not yet returned to the radiation levels we had in 1980,” since the chemicals that destroy ozone take 10 years to reach the stratosphere, and then the ozone layer takes time to recover.

Complete recovery of stratospheric ozone over Antarctica will take another 40 to 60 years, different studies say. But the fact that this year’s hole is smaller is good news.

A version of this article was first publish by Inter Press Service news agency (IPS).


Climate Of Doubt

Watch Climate of Doubt on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Fracking in America


Source: Al Jazeera 

With the US looking to ease its reliance on foreign oil, Fault Lines investigates the impact of natural gas extraction.

For years now, the United States has tried to lower its dependence on foreign oil for its energy needs.

With stability in the Middle East in question, drilling at home has never been more attractive. But it often comes at a cost.

Natural gas extraction - fracking - is being touted as the answer. But questions are being asked about the process and its implications.

America's prison problem


Source: Al Jazeera

Why does the US put so many people behind bars and what lies behind California's new push for leniency?
By filmmakers Michael Montgomery and Monica Lam, The Center for Investigative Reporting
The US locks up more people than any other country in the world, spending over $80bn each year to keep some two million prisoners behind bars. Over the past three decades, tough sentencing laws have contributed to a doubling of the country's prison population, with laws commonly known as 'three strikes and you're out' mandating life sentences for a wide range of crimes.

But a clear sign that Americans are rethinking crime and punishment is a voter's initiative on California's November ballot called Proposition 36 that seeks to reform the state's three-strikes law. Some 27 states have three-strikes laws patterned after California's version, which was one of the first to be enacted in the country.

Since it was passed in 1994, nearly 9,000 felons have been convicted in California under the law.
One of them is Norman Williams, a 49-year-old African-American man who was a crack addict living on the streets. He was convicted of burglarising an empty home and later stealing an armload of tools from an art studio. His third strike: filching a jack from a tow truck in Long Beach. His fate sealed under California's three-strikes law, Williams was sent to a maximum security prison alongside murderers, rapists and other violent criminals.

"I never wanted to do my whole life in prison. Nobody wants to be caged like that," Williams says.

Williams was lucky. After 13 years behind bars, his case was reviewed by a judge and he was released. He is one of about two dozen 'three strikers' who have won sentence reductions through the work of a Stanford University law clinic founded by Michael Romano. In Williams' case, the prosecutor actually agreed that the original sentence was too harsh. An idea emerged from Romano's work: Why not draft a ballot initiative to ensure that sentences like Williams' will not be repeated?

"When people originally passed the three-strikes law in 1994 the campaigns were about keeping serious and violent murderers, child molesters in prison for the rest of their lives," Romano says. "I think that's what people want and are kind of shocked to hear that people have been sentenced to life for petty theft."

Romano helped write Proposition 36, which would amend Californian law so felons could be sentenced to life only if their third strike is a serious or violent crime. Current 'three strikers' could appeal their sentences if their last conviction was non-serious and non-violent. However, the three-strikes law could still apply to felons whose third strike is a minor crime if their past strikes include violence, or what many call "super strikes" like murder, rape and child molestation.

Adam Gelb, the director of the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project, says the proposition could be a bellwether for crime policies across the US.

"California's three-strikes law really stands out," he says. "If it's changed it will definitely send a dramatic signal to policy makers across the country that it is a new day."

'Hope for strikers'

Opponents of the initiative argue that the current three-strikes law works well, and has contributed to a dramatic fall in violent crime over the past two decades.

"We want to remove the worst offenders from society for the sake of our communities," says Carl Adams, the head of the California District Attorneys Association. "And we want to do it no matter what it costs and we want to do it no matter what the impact on the prison population."

Opponents also say prosecutors today are using the current law judiciously, pointing out that more than 80 per cent of 'three strikers' were sentenced prior to 2000. Changing the law, they say, would remove an important tool from the prosecutorial toolbox.

"I don’t know why anybody would want to fix something that doesn't require fixing," says Marc Klaas, one of the state's fiercest defenders of the current three-strikes law. Klaas led the charge to pass tough, mandatory sentencing laws after his 12-year-old daughter Polly was raped and murdered by a career criminal in 1993. "It's really about preventing future victimisations," Klaas says.

But critics of the current law say the net is cast too widely. At San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco, some inmates convicted under third strikes have formed a self-help group called 'Hope for Strikers'. Some of the men here even voted for the original three-strikes law.

Joey Mason lived in Polly Klaas' hometown and remembers the uproar surrounding her murder.
"It devastated a lot of people," he says.

Mason was later convicted of burglary when he relapsed into drug addiction and is now serving a life sentence. Most of the men in the group say they are here for non-violent crimes, like Eddie Griffin, who was sentenced to 27-years-to-life for possession of cocaine, or Forrest Lee Jones, who caught a third strike when he stole a VCR.
"I never believed that three-strikes was going to go after us men," says Mason.

Indeed, an analysis of state data by the Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with the San Francisco Chronicle found that 'three strikers' are not more prone to violence than other inmates. Instead, they have a higher risk of drug and substance abuse problems.

Behind bars: Prison conditions

Activists who are campaigning to change the three-strikes law in California are also trying to raise awareness about conditions inside prisons. They are targeting the use of special security units at maximum security prisons like Pelican Bay State Prison. A recent report by Amnesty International condemned the long-term use of these special units, equating them to solitary confinement.

"Pelican Bay is a vivid example of a criminal justice system at its most extreme," says Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Amnesty International USA.

Corrections officials defend their use of the special units, saying they are necessary to segregate some of the state's most dangerous criminals - powerful gang members and violent inmates.

"The design is based on providing the maximum amount of security in housing these men separate from our general population and it provides for the safety of my staff, which is paramount," says Pelican Bay warden Greg Lewis.

But national scrutiny is being aimed at the stark conditions inside Pelican Bay and other so-called supermax prisons. In June, US Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois called for a hearing on the use of solitary confinement.

"We as American citizens are driving other American citizens out of their minds," testified Anthony Graves, a former Texas death row inmate who was exonerated after 18 years. For 10 of those years, Graves was held in isolation.
"No one can begin to imagine the psychological effects isolation has on another human being," he says.

Durbin says Americans are ready to rethink the costs of 'tough on crime' policies - both the human and financial costs. "There are things we can do that sound tough that are a waste of money and lead America down a path that we don't want to go down," he says.

The cost of incarceration

As election day approaches, the campaign to change California's three-strikes law is focusing its message on the burden to taxpayers.

In a TV ad, district attorneys from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties endorse Proposition 36, saying: "Save millions of dollars, instead of wasting millions on non-violent offenders."

The Yes-on-36-campaign has gathered support from across the political spectrum, including conservative watchdog Grover Norquist and religious conservatives like Pat Nolan.

Even if California voters decide to amend the three-strikes law, only a few thousand inmates would qualify to have their sentences reduced. Still, the change would send an important signal to the rest of the country, says Adam Gelb.

"California started this trend, as it starts so many trends," says Gelb. "What's happening in California now is going to resonate loudly across the country in terms of criminal justice policy for years to come."


Weekly Address: Wishing the American People a Happy Thanksgiving - November 22, 2012 (Video/Transcript)

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
November 22, 2012

On behalf of the Obama family – Michelle, Malia, Sasha and Bo – I want to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving.

For us, like so many of you, this is a day full of family and friends; food and football.  It’s a day to fight the overwhelming urge to take a nap – at least until after dinner.  But most of all, it’s a time to give thanks for each other, and for the incredible bounty we enjoy.

That’s especially important this year.  As a nation, we’ve just emerged from a campaign season that was passionate, noisy, and vital to our democracy.  But it also required us to make choices – and sometimes those choices led us to focus on what sets us apart instead of what ties us together; on what candidate we support instead of what country we belong to.
Thanksgiving is a chance to put it all in perspective – to remember that, despite our differences, we are, and always will be, Americans first and foremost. 

Today we give thanks for blessings that are all too rare in this world.  The ability to spend time with the ones we love; to say what we want; to worship as we please; to know that there are brave men and women defending our freedom around the globe; and to look our children in the eye and tell them that, here in America, no dream is too big if they’re willing to work for it.
We’re also grateful that this country has always been home to Americans who see these blessings not simply as gifts to enjoy, but as opportunities to give back.  Americans who believe we have a responsibility to look out for those less fortunate – to pull each other up and move forward together.

Right now, as we prepare to gather around our dinner tables, there are families in the northeast who don’t have that luxury.  Many of them have lost everything to Hurricane Sandy – homes, possessions, even loved ones.  And it will be a long time before life goes back to normal.

But in the midst of so much tragedy, there are also glimmers of hope.  Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen FEMA personnel, National Guard and first responders working around the clock in hard-hit communities.  We’ve seen hospital workers using their lunch breaks to distribute supplies.  Families offering up extra bedrooms.  The fire department advertising free hot showers.  Buses full of volunteers coming from hundreds of miles away.  Neighbors sharing whatever they have – food, water, electricity – and saying again and again how lucky they are to have a roof over their heads.

It would have been easy for these folks to do nothing – to worry about themselves and leave the rest to someone else.  But that’s not who we are.  That’s not what we do. 

As Americans, we are a bold, generous, big-hearted people.  When our brothers and sisters are in need, we roll up our sleeves and get to work – not for the recognition or the reward, but because it’s the right thing to do.  Because there but for the grace of God go I.  And because here in America, we rise or fall together, as one nation and one people.

That’s something to be grateful for – today and every day. 

So to all the Americans doing your part to make our world a better place – it is my privilege to serve as your President.  To all our servicemembers – it is my honor to be your Commander in Chief.  And from our family to yours, happy Thanksgiving.


President Obama Pardons White House Turkey (video/transcript)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, good afternoon, everybody.  (Turkey gobbles.)  (Laughter.)
They say that life is all about second chances.  And this November, I could not agree more.  (Laughter.)  So in the spirit of the season, I have one more gift to give, and it goes to a pair of turkeys named Cobbler and Gobbler.  The American people have spoken, and these birds are moving forward.  (Turkey gobbles.)  (Laughter.)  I love this bird.  (Laughter.)

Now, I joke, but for the first time in our history, the winners of the White House Turkey Pardon were chosen through a highly competitive online vote.  And once again, Nate Silver completely nailed it.  (Laughter.)  The guy is amazing.  He predicted these guys would win.

I want to thank everyone who participated in this election.  Because of your votes, the only cobbler anyone’s eating this Thanksgiving will come with a side of ice cream.  And for that, our winning turkey can thank his stellar campaign team led by Steve Willardsen, who is the Chairman of the National Turkey Foundation and raised this beautiful bird at Miller Farm in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  So here’s Steve.  (Applause.)

And, as always, if for some reason Cobbler cannot fulfill his duties as the Official White House Turkey, Gobbler will be waiting in the wings.

From here, these two -- (laughter) -- from here these two lucky birds will be swept up in a whirlwind of fame and fortune that will ultimately lead them to Mount Vernon, where they will spend their twilight years in the storied home of George Washington.  And later today, Michelle, Malia, Sasha and I will be taking two turkeys who were not so lucky to a local food bank here in Washington, D.C.  I want to thank Jaindl Turkey Farms in Pennsylvania for donating these birds -- or those birds -- and I’d like to ask every American to do what they can to help families who are in need of a real Thanksgiving this year.

Tomorrow, in the company of friends and loved ones, we will celebrate a uniquely American holiday.  And it’s a chance for us to spend time with the people we care about and to give thanks for the blessings that we enjoy; and to think about just how lucky we are to live in the greatest nation on Earth.

But it’s also a time to remember those who are less fortunate -– and this year, that’s particularly true for our neighbors in the Northeast who have lost their homes and their possessions, and even their loved ones to Hurricane Sandy.

In the last few weeks, I had a chance to visit both New Jersey and New York.  And while I’ve seen entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and heartbreaking loss and devastation, I have yet to find a broken spirit.

Countless stories of courage, and compassion, and resilience have emerged in the aftermath of the storm.  But one that comes to mind today is about a tree on Staten Island.  It’s a giant blue spruce that came crashing down in the front yard of Joseph Ingenito, whose home in New Dorp Beach flooded during the hurricane.  Today, if you go to Joseph’s street, you’ll see a lot of damage and debris scattered all over the block.  But you’ll also see the top of that tree, standing tall in front of his house, decorated with ornaments that survived the storm, along with anything else his neighbors could find including empty cups and surgical masks and safety goggles.  It’s a Christmas tree, and it’s there to remind the neighborhood that there will still be holidays to celebrate, and happy moments to share, and life will go on.  And we will rebuild.

And so tomorrow, we give thanks -– not only for the things that we have, or the people we love, but for the spirit that sees us through the toughest times, and holds us together as one American family, guided along our journey by the hope of a better day.

And I hope that over this holiday weekend, we’re also thinking about our extraordinary men and women overseas who are serving far away from home in harm’s way.  But the reason they're there is because they give thanks too for the extraordinary life that have here in the United States of America.

So may God bless those brave men and women in uniform who are away from their families this holiday season.  May God bless the American people.  May you all have a very happy Thanksgiving.

And with that I think we are going to bestow the official pardon on -- wait, which -- is he Gobbler or Cobbler?  Cobbler.  Come on.  All right, I’ve got to give the special dispensation.  Congratulations, Cobbler.  You have a great life.

Everybody give Cobbler a big round of applause.

(The turkeys are pardoned.)


Palestinian Civilians Bear the Brunt of Unrelenting Bombings in U.S.-Backed Attack on Gaza (video/transcript)

Source: Democracy Now

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli attack on Gaza has entered its sixth day with few signs of letting up. At least 95 Palestinians have been killed in air strikes by warplanes and drones. More than 700 have been wounded, including 200 children. Earlier today, an Israeli strike near the Bureij refugee camp killed at least three children, including an 18-month-old infant, and two women. On Sunday, a massive air strike leveled a home in Gaza City killing 12 people, including 10 members of the same family. Over the past week, rockets fired from Gaza have killed three Israelis.

Speaking in Bangkok Sunday, President Obama supported Israel’s attack on Gaza.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So, we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.
AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now from Gaza is Raji Sourani, an award-winning human rights lawyer, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. He is on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights. In 1991, he won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Prize.

Raji, can you tell us where you are right now and describe what’s happening in Gaza?

RAJI SOURANI: I’m in Gaza City in the western part of the city, just near the beach. And the situation for the last 24 hours has been escalated in a very, very drastic way, meaning—I mean more and more aerial bombardment coming for the Gaza. Gunships have been bombing all over the place. And the number of killings and injuries, especially among civilians, raised in a very unique way. In the last five days, we lost 27 civilians, women and children. But in the last 24 hours, we lost 31 civilians, including al-Dalo family where 10 family members has been killed during this air raid on their three-stories home.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know who this family was? And who were the 10 members of this family?

RAJI SOURANI: We are talking about six children, four women. And this family good—I mean, nice, good, working family, a successful businessman who’s doing well, I mean, in Gaza. And they have nothing to do with politics. I mean, like any ordinary, standard Gazans. I think this wasn’t, I mean, the first, you know, house to be targeted. And the eye of the storm, Gaza civilians. An overwhelming majority so far among the killings and injuries are civilians. More than 70 percent are civilians. We know them, we count them, we document them, and we are aware about that. Even, I mean, the targets are very, very civilian targets. You are talking about private houses. You are talking about police stations. You are talking about soccer fields. You are talking about water wells. I mean, it’s amazing. I think the Israelis very intentionally targeting civilians. They are the one in the eye of the storm.

I’ll share with you a very personal story. My family house, located in the heart of the Gaza City, is just near a police station. And this police station, since first hour, no one in it. It’s entirely empty. But last night, 3:00 in the morning, my aunt—she is 87—and I have two brothers who passed through open-heart surgeries, and many of the children rounded the house, and 10 to 3:00 a.m. in the early morning, maybe one-ton bomb hit the first time, and second bomb exploded. And the entire neighborhood, I mean, was just insane. I mean, it’s like earthquake hit to place, tsunami hit the place.

I’m wondering, Amy, what’s the added security value of bombing a civilian police station? And this police station is empty. And what’s the added value of causing damage for something around 10 houses around that police station? And what’s the added value of terrorizing more than 20-30,000 people who live around that place? It’s incredible what’s going on here. We don’t feel entirely hostage to this Israeli belligerent occupation and their practice. Civilians are the target. They are exactly the same thing which had happened four years ago, when Cast Lead operation has been carried by Israel, and again, civilians were in the eye of the storm. If these things—Dalo family killed, bombing these places, terrorizing civilians—are not war crimes, what are war crimes?

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play for you a comment by Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister. He thanked the Obama administration for its support.
EHUD BARAK: This effort could not have been concluded without the generous and consistent support of the American administration, led by President Obama.
AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if you can comment on what the Israeli defense minister said and President Obama’s own words, saying that any country has the right to defend its own population, talking about the Hamas missiles that are being shot out of Gaza.

RAJI SOURANI: First thing I have to say that, I swear, one day we will hold accountable all these Israeli leaders because of the war crimes and crimes against humanity they are perpetrating against children and women, against civilians in this part of the world. We are people who believe in rule of law and accountability. And Obama administration provided full legal, political immunity for those who are criminals, when Cast Lead operation had happened few years ago. And they used a veto in the Security Council not to pass Goldstone Report and being tried through the ICC.

Now, that makes us—when I do hear this statement of Mr. Obama and Mr. Barak, that Mr. Obama is a real partner of Israel and the crimes they are doing against civilians. If there are a lack of facts—and I am sure there are not—we can provide them with very first-class, legal-documented files showing, I mean, all these war crimes and crimes against humanity, I mean, Israel do perpetrate. We are civilians under occupation. We are entitled for protection. International law, international humanitarian law give us that. Geneva Conventions are not for intellect or academics; it’s for civilians to have it on their skin, to be protected at the time of war, not peace. We are the targets of this Israeli belligerent occupation offensive. We are the target of this war. We are the one whom we face state terrorism on our skin. We are the ones who are counting the corpses and injuries of the children, women and civilians. This is shame, because—this is not, I mean, really what we say; this is what Human Rights Watch says. This is what ICJ, International Commission of Jurists; FIDH; [inaudible] the Euro-Med Human Rights Network; even Israeli human rights organization talk about what’s going on here. It’s Kafka, when we are the people who are entitled for protection, and we’re called in law that protected civilian under the occupation, being exposed as the victimizers of this Israeli belligerent occupation, reminding everybody that we are the only country on earth who have this belligerent occupation for the last 45 years.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. We are with Raji Sourani, a well-known Palestinian human rights attorney, winner of the RFK Memorial Prize for his human rights work. And we’re also going to be joined by the U.N. rapporteur, Richard Falk. So, stay with us.

Obama Delivers a Speech at Yangon University (Video/Transcript)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Myanmar Naingan, Mingalaba!  (Laughter and applause.)  I am very honored to be here at this university and to be the first President of the United States of America to visit your country.

I came here because of the importance of your country.  You live at the crossroads of East and South Asia.  You border the most populated nations on the planet.  You have a history that reaches back thousands of years, and the ability to help determine the destiny of the fastest growing region of the world.

I came here because of the beauty and diversity of your country.  I have seen just earlier today the golden stupa of Shwedagon, and have been moved by the timeless idea of metta -- the belief that our time on this Earth can be defined by tolerance and by love.  And I know this land reaches from the crowded neighborhoods of this old city to the homes of more than 60,000 villages; from the peaks of the Himalayas, the forests of Karen State, to the banks of the Irrawady River.

I came here because of my respect for this university.  It was here at this school where opposition to colonial rule first took hold.  It was here that Aung San edited a magazine before leading an independence movement.  It was here that U Thant learned the ways of the world before guiding it at the United Nations.  Here, scholarship thrived during the last century and students demanded their basic human rights.  Now, your Parliament has at last passed a resolution to revitalize this university and it must reclaim its greatness, because the future of this country will be determined by the education of its youth.

I came here because of the history between our two countries.  A century ago, American traders, merchants and missionaries came here to build bonds of faith and commerce and friendship.  And from within these borders in World War II, our pilots flew into China and many of our troops gave their lives.  Both of our nations emerged from the British Empire, and the United States was among the first countries to recognize an independent Union of Burma.  We were proud to found an American Center in Rangoon and to build exchanges with schools like this one.  And through decades of differences, Americans have been united in their affection for this country and its people.

Above all, I came here because of America’s belief in human dignity.  Over the last several decades, our two countries became strangers.  But today, I can tell you that we always remained hopeful about the people of this country, about you.  You gave us hope and we bore witness to your courage.

We saw the activists dressed in white visit the families of political prisoners on Sundays and monks dressed in saffron protesting peacefully in the streets.  We learned of ordinary people who organized relief teams to respond to a cyclone, and heard the voices of students and the beats of hip-hop artists projecting the sound of freedom.  We came to know exiles and refugees who never lost touch with their families or their ancestral home.  And we were inspired by the fierce dignity of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as she proved that no human being can truly be imprisoned if hope burns in your heart.

When I took office as President, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear.  I said, in my inauguration address, “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”  And over the last year and a half, a dramatic transition has begun, as a dictatorship of five decades has loosened its grip.  Under President Thein Sein, the desire for change has been met by an agenda for reform.  A civilian now leads the government, and a parliament is asserting itself.  The once-outlawed National League for Democracy stood in an election, and Aung San Suu Kyi is a Member of Parliament.  Hundreds of prisoners of conscience have been released, and forced labor has been banned.  Preliminary cease-fires have been reached with ethnic armies, and new laws allow for a more open economy.

So today, I’ve come to keep my promise and extend the hand of friendship.  America now has an Ambassador in Rangoon, sanctions have been eased, and we will help rebuild an economy that can offer opportunity for its people, and serve as an engine of growth for the world.  But this remarkable journey has just begun, and has much further to go.  Reforms launched from the top of society must meet the aspirations of citizens who form its foundation.  The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished -- they must be strengthened; they must become a shining North Star for all this nation’s people.

And your success in that effort is important to the United States, as well as to me.  Even though we come from different places, we share common dreams:  to choose our leaders; to live together in peace; to get an education and make a good living; to love our families and our communities.  That’s why freedom is not an abstract idea; freedom is the very thing that makes human progress possible -- not just at the ballot box, but in our daily lives.

One of our greatest Presidents in the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, understood this truth.  He defined America’s cause as more than the right to cast a ballot.  He understood democracy was not just voting.  He called upon the world to embrace four fundamental freedoms:  freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.  These four freedoms reinforce one another, and you cannot fully realize one without realizing them all.

So that's the future that we seek for ourselves, and for all people.  And that is what I want to speak to you about today.

First, we believe in the right of free expression so that the voices of ordinary people can be heard, and governments reflect their will -- the people's will.

In the United States, for more than two centuries, we have worked to keep this promise for all of our citizens -- to win freedom for those who were enslaved; to extend the right to vote for women and African Americans; to protect the rights of workers to organize.

And we recognize no two nations achieve these rights in exactly the same way, but there is no question that your country will be stronger if it draws on the strength of all of its people.  That’s what allows nations to succeed.  That’s what reform has begun to do.

Instead of being repressed, the right of people to assemble together must now be fully respected.  Instead of being stifled, the veil of media censorship must continue to be lifted.  And as you take these steps, you can draw on your progress.  Instead of being ignored, citizens who protested the construction of the Myitsone dam were heard.  Instead of being outlawed, political parties have been allowed to participate.  You can see progress being made.  As one voter said during the parliamentary elections here, “Our parents and grandparents waited for this, but never saw it.”  And now you can see it.  You can taste freedom.

And to protect the freedom of all the voters, those in power must accept constraints.  That's what our American system is designed to do.  Now, America may have the strongest military in the world, but it must submit to civilian control.  I, as the President of the United States, make determinations that the military then carries out, not the other way around.  As President and Commander-In-Chief, I have that responsibility because I'm accountable to the people.
Now, on other hand, as President, I cannot just impose my will on Congress -- the Congress of the United States -- even though sometimes I wish I could.  The legislative branch has its own powers and its own prerogatives, and so they check my power and balance my power.  I appoint some of our judges, but I cannot tell them how to rule, because every person in America -- from a child living in poverty to me, the President of the United States -- is equal under the law.  And a judge can make a determination as to whether or not I am upholding the law or breaking the law.  And I am fully accountable to that law.

And I describe our system in the United States because that's how you must reach for the future that you deserve -- a future where a single prisoner of conscience is one too many.  You need to reach for a future where the law is stronger than any single leader, because it's accountable to the people.  You need to reach for a future where no child is made to be a soldier and no woman is exploited, and where the laws protect them even if they're vulnerable, even if they're weak; a future where national security is strengthened by a military that serves under civilians and a Constitution that guarantees that only those who are elected by the people may govern.

On that journey, America will support you every step of the way -- by using our assistance to empower civil society; by engaging your military to promote professionalism and human rights; and by partnering with you as you connect your progress towards democracy with economic development.  So advancing that journey will help you pursue a second freedom -- the belief that all people should be free from want.

It's not enough to trade a prison of powerlessness for the pain of an empty stomach.  But history shows that governments of the people and by the people and for the people are far more powerful in delivering prosperity.  And that's the partnership we seek with you.
When ordinary people have a say in their own future, then your land can’t just be taken away from you.  And that's why reforms must ensure that the people of this nation can have that most fundamental of possessions -- the right to own the title to the land on which you live and on which you work.

When your talents are unleashed, then opportunity will be created for all people.  America is lifting our ban on companies doing business here, and your government has lifted restrictions on investment and taken steps to open up your economy.  And now, as more wealth flows into your borders, we hope and expect that it will lift up more people.  It can't just help folks at the top.  It has to help everybody.  And that kind of economic growth, where everybody has opportunity -- if you work hard, you can succeed -- that's what gets a nation moving rapidly when it comes to develop.

But that kind of growth can only be created if corruption is left behind.  For investment to lead to opportunity, reform must promote budgets that are transparent and industry that is privately owned.

To lead by example, America now insists that our companies meet high standards of openness and transparency if they're doing business here.  And we'll work with organizations like the World Bank to support small businesses and to promote an economy that allows entrepreneurs, small businesspeople to thrive and allows workers to keep what they earn.  And I very much welcome your government’s recent decision to join what we've called our Open Government Partnership, so that citizens can come to expect accountability and learn exactly how monies are spent and how your system of government operates.

Above all, when your voices are heard in government, it's far more likely that your basic needs will be met.  And that’s why reform must reach the daily lives of those who are hungry and those who are ill, and those who live without electricity or water.  And here, too, America will do our part in working with you.

Today, I was proud to reestablish our USAID mission in this country, which is our lead development agency.  And the United States wants to be a partner in helping this country, which used to be the rice bowl of Asia, to reestablish its capacity to feed its people and to care for its sick, and educate its children, and build its democratic institutions as you continue down the path of reform.

This country is famous for its natural resources, and they must be protected against exploitation.  And let us remember that in a global economy, a country’s greatest resource is its people.  So by investing in you, this nation can open the door for far more prosperity -- because unlocking a nation’s potential depends on empowering all its people, especially its young people.

Just as education is the key to America’s future, it is going to the be the key to your future as well.  And so we look forward to working with you, as we have with many of your neighbors, to extend that opportunity and to deepen exchanges among our students.  We want students from this country to travel to the United States and learn from us, and we want U.S. students to come here and learn from you.

And this truth leads me to the third freedom that I want to discuss:  the freedom to worship -- the freedom to worship as you please, and your right to basic human dignity.
This country, like my own country, is blessed with diversity.  Not everybody looks the same.  Not everybody comes from the same region.  Not everybody worships in the same way.  In your cities and towns, there are pagodas and temples, and mosques and churches standing side by side.  Well over a hundred ethnic groups have been a part of your story.  Yet within these borders, we’ve seen some of the world’s longest running insurgencies, which have cost countless lives, and torn families and communities apart, and stood in the way of development.

No process of reform will succeed without national reconciliation.  (Applause.)  You now have a moment of remarkable opportunity to transform cease-fires into lasting settlements, and to pursue peace where conflicts still linger, including in Kachin State.  Those efforts must lead to a more just and lasting peace, including humanitarian access to those in need, and a chance for the displaced to return home.

Today, we look at the recent violence in Rakhine State that has caused so much suffering, and we see the danger of continued tensions there.  For too long, the people of this state, including ethnic Rakhine, have faced crushing poverty and persecution.  But there is no excuse for violence against innocent people.  And the Rohingya hold themselves -- hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do.

National reconciliation will take time, but for the sake of our common humanity, and for the sake of this country’s future, it is necessary to stop incitement and to stop violence.  And I welcome the government’s commitment to address the issues of injustice and accountability, and humanitarian access and citizenship.  That’s a vision that the world will support as you move forward.

Every nation struggles to define citizenship.  America has had great debates about these issues, and those debates continue to this day, because we’re a nation of immigrants -- people coming from every different part of the world.  But what we’ve learned in the United States is that there are certain principles that are universal, apply to everybody no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what religion you practice.  The right of people to live without the threat that their families may be harmed or their homes may be burned simply because of who they are or where they come from.

Only the people of this country ultimately can define your union, can define what it means to be a citizen of this country.  But I have confidence that as you do that you can draw on this diversity as a strength and not a weakness.  Your country will be stronger because of many different cultures, but you have to seize that opportunity.  You have to recognize that strength.

I say this because my own country and my own life have taught me the power of diversity.  The United States of America is a nation of Christians and Jews, and Muslims and Buddhists, and Hindus and non-believers.  Our story is shaped by every language; it’s enriched by every culture.  We have people from every corners of the world.  We’ve tasted the bitterness of civil war and segregation, but our history shows us that hatred in the human heart can recede; that the lines between races and tribes fade away.  And what’s left is a simple truth: e pluribus unum -- that’s what we say in America.  Out of many, we are one nation and we are one people.  And that truth has, time and again, made our union stronger.  It has made our country stronger.  It’s part of what has made America great.

We amended our Constitution to extend the democratic principles that we hold dear.  And I stand before you today as President of the most powerful nation on Earth, but recognizing that once the color of my skin would have denied me the right to vote.  And so that should give you some sense that if our country can transcend its differences, then yours can, too.  Every human being within these borders is a part of your nation’s story, and you should embrace that.  That’s not a source of weakness, that’s a source of strength -- if you recognize it.
And that brings me to the final freedom that I will discuss today, and that is the right of all people to live free from fear.

In many ways, fear is the force that stands between human beings and their dreams.  Fear of conflict and the weapons of war.  Fear of a future that is different from the past.  Fear of changes that are reordering our societies and economy.  Fear of people who look different, or come from a different place, or worship in a different way.  In some of her darkest moments, when Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned, she wrote an essay about freedom from fear.  She said fear of losing corrupts those who wield it -- “Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

That's the fear that you can leave behind.  We see that chance in leaders who are beginning to understand that power comes from appealing to people’s hopes, not people's fears.  We see it in citizens who insist that this time must be different, that this time change will come and will continue.  As Aung San Suu Kyi wrote: “Fear is not the natural state of civilized man.”  I believe that.  And today, you are showing the world that fear does not have to be the natural state of life in this country.

That’s why I am here.  That’s why I came to Rangoon.  And that’s why what happens here is so important -- not only to this region, but to the world.  Because you're taking a journey that has the potential to inspire so many people.  This is a test of whether a country can transition to a better place.

The United States of America is a Pacific nation, and we see our future as bound to those nations and peoples to our West.  And as our economy recovers, this is where we believe we will find enormous growth.  As we have ended the wars that have dominated our foreign policy for a decade, this region will be a focus for our efforts to build a prosperous peace.
Here in Southeast Asia, we see the potential for integration among nations and people.  And as President, I have embraced ASEAN for reasons that go beyond the fact that I spent some of my childhood in this region, in Indonesia.  Because with ASEAN, we see nations that are on the move -- nations that are growing, and democracies that are emerging; governments that are cooperating; progress that’s building on the diversity that spans oceans and islands and jungles and cities, peoples of every race and every religion.  This is what the 21st century should look like if we have the courage to put aside our differences and move forward with a sense of mutual interest and mutual respect.

And here in Rangoon, I want to send a message across Asia: We don’t need to be defined by the prisons of the past.  We need to look forward to the future.  To the leadership of North Korea, I have offered a choice:  let go of your nuclear weapons and choose the path of peace and progress.  If you do, you will find an extended hand from the United States of America.
In 2012, we don’t need to cling to the divisions of East, West and North and South.  We welcome the peaceful rise of China, your neighbor to the North; and India, your neighbor to the West.  The United Nations -- the United States will work with any nation, large or small, that will contribute to a world that is more peaceful and more prosperous, and more just and more free.  And the United States will be a friend to any nation that respects the rights of its citizens and the responsibilities of international law. 
That's the nation, that's the world that you can start to build here in this historic city.  This nation that's been so isolated can show the world the power of a new beginning, and demonstrate once again that the journey to democracy goes hand in hand with development.  I say this knowing that there are still countless people in this country who do not enjoy the opportunities that many of you seated here do.  There are tens of millions who have no electricity.  There are prisoners of conscience who still await release.  There are refugees and displaced peoples in camps where hope is still something that lies on the distant horizon.
Today, I say to you -- and I say to everybody that can hear my voice -- that the United States of America is with you, including those who have been forgotten, those who are dispossessed, those who are ostracized, those who are poor.  We carry your story in our heads and your hopes in our hearts, because in this 21st century with the spread of technology and the breaking down of barriers, the frontlines of freedom are within nations and individuals, not simply between them.

As one former prisoner put it in speaking to his fellow citizens, “Politics is your job.  It’s not only for [the] politicians.”  And we have an expression in the United States that the most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen -- not President, not Speaker, but citizen.  (Applause.)

So as extraordinary and difficult and challenging and sometimes frustrating as this journey may seem, in the end, you, the citizens of this country, are the ones who must define what freedom means.  You're the ones who are going to have to seize freedom, because a true revolution of the spirit begins in each of our hearts.  It requires the kind of courage that so many of your leaders have already displayed.

The road ahead will be marked by huge challenges, and there will be those who resist the forces of change.  But I stand here with confidence that something is happening in this country that cannot be reversed, and the will of the people can lift up this nation and set a great example for the world.  And you will have in the United States of America a partner on that long journey.  So, cezu tin bad de.  (Applause.)
Thank you.  (Applause.)


Gaza: How can the US manage the crisis?

Source: Aljazeera

"As United States has said many times, it cannot want something that the actual leaders in the region are unwilling to accept. So we can't force an Israeli prime minister and a Palestinian president to sign an agreement that they are not yet willing to sign .... In fairness, there are two visions of how to get to a peace agreement, President Abbas is committed to a peaceful negotiation, Hamas is not. United States is not going to endorse a group that rather than seeking peace wants to continue the resistance." - PJ Crowley, former US state department spokesman

To Hamas and other Palestinian groups, the US president sent a strong condemnation, saying there is no justification for "the cowardly acts" of launching rockets into Israel.
To the Israeli prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, he sent a message of support and simply urged him to "avoid" civilian casualties. 

So far around two dozen Palestinians have been killed including six children and a pregnant woman.  Three Israeli civilians have been killed.

This is a conflict that the world has become all too familiar with. It was almost exactly four years ago that Israel launched a 22-day operation in Gaza that left more than a thousand Palestinians, and 13 Israelis dead.

At the time Barack Obama had just been elected but had not yet assumed office. The reaction from outgoing President George W Bush was much the same as what we are hearing from Obama today.

But over the last few years, the Palestinian-Isreali conflict has been largely ignored as unrest swept across the Middle East. Democratically-elected leaders in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt are showing new solidarity with the Palestinians.

So what options does President Obama have in dealing with this crisis as US influence in the region wanes?

The White House response has been that of support for Israel.  A statement released by the office of the press secretary on Thursday said:
"The President reiterated to Prime Minister Netanyahu the United States' support for Israel's right to self-defence in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians.

"The president urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate."

From the moment of Israel's creation, successive US administrations have appreciated the special relationship between our two nations.

Israel continues to be the one true democracy in the Middle East that brings stability to a region where it is in short supply.

Whether fighting Soviet expansionism or the current threats from regional aggression and terrorism, Israel has been a consistent, reliable ally and friend and has helped to advance US interests.

So what role can and should the US play in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the Middle East continues to change?

"If we are going to forward a process here, the United States is going to have to become engaged .... here we are with a four-year presidency, no re-election campaign in the offing, with the United states pivoting towards Asia, [and] new democracies in the Middle East, maybe now is the time to intervene [with] much more substance and robustly than he [Obama] has before." - Mark Perry, a military and foreign affairs analyst

To discuss this, Inside Story Americas, with presenter Kimberly Halkett, is joined by guests: PJ Crowely, former US state department spokesman; Ali Gharib, a senior editor for The Daily Beast blog, Open Zion; and Mark Perry, the author of Talking to terrorists, why America must engage with its enemies.


President Barack Obama Weekly Address November 17, 2012 (Video/Transcript)

Hi, everybody.

Four years after the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, our economy is growing again and creating jobs.  But we have much more to do. Our task now is to build on that progress.  Because this nation only succeeds when we’ve got a growing, thriving middle class. 
That’s what drives me. That’s what I campaigned on for the past year.  That’s what will guide me in our work over the next four years. And I’m willing to work with anyone of any party to move this country forward.

Because soon, we face a very clear deadline that requires us to make some big decisions on jobs and taxes; on investments and deficits. Both parties voted to set this deadline. And I believe both parties can work together to make these decisions in a balanced and responsible way.

When it comes to taxes, for example, there are two pathways available.
One says, if Congress fails to act by the end of the year, then everybody’s taxes automatically go up – including the 98% of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year. Our economy can’t afford that right now. You can’t afford that right now.  And nobody wants that to happen.
The other path is for Congress to pass a law right away to prevent a tax hike on the first $250,000 of anyone’s income. That means all Americans – including the wealthiest Americans – get a tax cut.  And 98 percent of Americans, and 97 percent of all small business owners, won’t see their income taxes go up a single dime. 

The Senate has already passed a bill like this. Democrats in the House are ready to pass one, too. All we need is for Republicans in the House to come on board. 

We shouldn’t hold the middle class hostage while Congress debates tax cuts for the wealthy. 

Let’s begin our work by actually doing what we all agree on. Let’s keep taxes low for the middle class. And let’s get it done soon – so we can give families and businesses some good news going into the holiday season.

I know these challenges won’t be easy to solve. But we can do it if we work together. 

That’s why on Friday I sat down with Congressional leaders to discuss how we can reduce our deficit in a way that strengthens our economy and protects our middle class. It was a constructive meeting. And everyone agreed that while we may have our differences, we need to come together, find solutions and take action as soon as possible. 

Because if anything, that’s the message I heard loud and clear in the election. 

Work as hard as you can to make our lives better. And do it together. 

Don’t worry about the politics.  Just get the job done. 

Everywhere I went in that campaign – from farms in Iowa to the Vegas strip; from Colorado’s Rockies to the Florida coast – I was inspired by the grit and resilience of the American people, by your hard work and sense of decency.  And it makes me want to work even harder for you. I saw it again this week in New York, where our fellow citizens are going through a really tough time, but are helping each other through it. And we’re going to be there to help them rebuild.
Every single day, the good people of this country work as hard as you can to meet your responsibilities. Those of us you sent to Washington are going to do the same. 

Thanks and have a great weekend.