Monday, July 21, 2014

Read: President Obama's statement on Ukraine and Gaza

The following was released by the White House (unedited here) 
 
 THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  I want to make a brief statement about the tragedy in Ukraine.  Before I do, though, I want to note that Secretary Kerry has departed for the Middle East.  As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas.  And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.  I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.  And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.

    

     So Secretary Kerry will meet with allies and partners.  I’ve instructed him to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.  The work will not be easy.  Obviously, there are enormous passions involved in this and some very difficult strategic issues involved.  Nevertheless, I’ve asked John to do everything he can to help facilitate a cessation to hostilities.  We don’t want to see any more civilians getting killed.

 

     With respect to Ukraine, it’s now been four days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.  Over the last several days, our hearts have been absolutely broken as we’ve learned more about the extraordinary and beautiful lives that were lost -- men, women and children and infants who were killed so suddenly and so senselessly.

    

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families around the world who are going through just unimaginable grief.  I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a number of leaders around the world whose citizens were lost on this flight, and all of them remain in a state of shock but, frankly, also in a state of outrage. 

    

     Our immediate focus is on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts.  We have to make sure that the truth is out and that accountability exists. 

 

Now, international investigators are on the ground.  They have been organized.  I’ve sent teams; other countries have sent teams.  They are prepared, they are organized to conduct what should be the kinds of protocols and scouring and collecting of evidence that should follow any international incident like this.  And what they need right now is immediate and full access to the crash site.  They need to be able to conduct a prompt and full and unimpeded as well as transparent investigation.  And recovery personnel have to do the solemn and sacred work on recovering the remains of those who were lost.

 

Ukrainian President Poroshenko has declared a demilitarized zone around the crash site.  As I said before, you have international teams already in place prepared to conduct the investigation and recover the remains of those who have been lost.  But, unfortunately, the Russian-backed separatists who control the area continue to block the investigation.  They have repeatedly prevented international investigators from gaining full access to the wreckage.  As investigators approached, they fired their weapons into the air.  These separatists are removing evidence from the crash site, all of which begs the question -- what exactly are they trying to hide?

 

Moreover, these Russian-backed separatists are removing bodies from the crash site, oftentimes without the care that we would normally expect from a tragedy like this.  And this is an insult to those who have lost loved ones.  This is the kind of behavior that has no place in the community of nations.

 

Now, Russia has extraordinary influence over these separatists.  No one denies that.  Russia has urged them on.  Russia has trained them.  We know that Russia has armed them with military equipment and weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons.  Key separatist leaders are Russian citizens.  So given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia and President Putin, in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation.  That is the least that they can do. 

 

President Putin says that he supports a full and fair investigation.  And I appreciate those words, but they have to be supported by actions.  The burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground immediate, full and unimpeded access to the crash site.  The separatists and the Russian sponsors are responsible for the safety of the investigators doing their work.  And along with our allies and partners, we will be working this issue at the United Nations today. 

 

More broadly, as I’ve said throughout this crisis and the crisis in Ukraine generally, and I’ve said this directly to President Putin, as well as publicly, my preference continues to be finding a diplomatic resolution within Ukraine.  I believe that can still happen.  That is my preference today, and it will continue to be my preference.

 

But if Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and to back these separatists, and these separatists become more and more dangerous and now are risks not simply to the people inside of Ukraine but the broader international community, then Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community, and the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase. 

 

Now is the time for President Putin and Russia to pivot away from the strategy that they’ve been taking and get serious about trying to resolve hostilities within Ukraine in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and respects the right of the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions about their own lives.

 

And time is of the essence.  Our friends and allies need to be able to recover those who were lost.  That's the least we can do.  That's the least that decency demands.  Families deserve to be able to lay their loved ones to rest with dignity.  The world deserves to know exactly what happened.  And the people of Ukraine deserve to determine their own future. 

 

Thanks.

Remarks by President Obama at signing of executive order on LGBT workplace discrimination

 
 
The following is a press release from the White House today (unedited here - scroll to the bottom to read the order Obama signed)
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Welcome to the White House, everybody.  I know I'm a little late.  But that's okay because we've got some big business to do here. 

 

Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day coming.  You organized, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you sent letters -- I know because I got a lot of them.  (Laughter.) And now, thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government -- government of the people, by the people, and for the people -- will become just a little bit fairer.

 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Amen.  (Applause.) 

 

THE PRESIDENT:  It doesn’t make much sense, but today in America, millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are --  lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.  And that’s wrong.  We’re here to do what we can to make it right -- to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction. 

 

In a few moments, I will sign an executive order that does two things.  First, the federal government already prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Once I sign this order, the same will be explicitly true for gender identity.  (Applause.)   

 

And second, we’re going to prohibit all companies that receive a contract from the federal government from discriminating against their LGBT employees.  (Applause.)    America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people. 

 

Now, this executive order is part of a long bipartisan tradition.  President Roosevelt signed an order prohibiting racial discrimination in the national defense industry.  President Eisenhower strengthened it.  President Johnson expanded it.  Today, I'm going to expand it again. 

 

Currently, 18 states have already banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  And over 200 cities and localities have done the same.  Governor Terry McAuliffe is here; his first act as governor was to prohibit discrimination against LGBT employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  (Applause.)  Where did Terry go?  Right back here. 

 

I’ve appointed a record number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender public servants to positions across my administration.  They are ambassadors and federal judges, special assistants, senior advisors from the Pentagon to the Labor Department.  Every day, their talent is put to work on behalf of the American people.

 

Equality in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it turns out to be good business.  That’s why a majority of Fortune 500 companies already have nondiscrimination policies in place.  It is not just about doing the right thing -- it’s also about attracting and retaining the best talent.  And there are several business leaders who are here today who will attest to that. 

 

And yet, despite all that, in too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fireable offense.  There are people here today who’ve lost their jobs for that reason.  This is not speculative, this is not a matter of political correctness -- people lose their jobs as a consequence of this.  Their livelihoods are threatened, their families are threatened.  In fact, more states now allow same-sex marriage than prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers.  So I firmly believe that it’s time to address this injustice for every American. 

 

Now, Congress has spent 40 years -- four decades -- considering legislation that would help solve the problem.  That's a long time.  And yet they still haven’t gotten it done.  Senators Terry [Tammy] Baldwin and Jeff Merkley are here.  They have been champions of this issue for a long, long time.  We are very proud of them.  I know they will not stop fighting until fair treatment for all workers is the federal law of the land.  Everyone thanks them for that.  (Applause.)   

 

But I’m going to do what I can, with the authority I have, to act.  The rest of you, of course, need to keep putting pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation that resolves this problem once and for all.

 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Amen!

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Amen.  Amen.  (Applause.)  Got the “amen” corner here.  (Laughter.)  Well -- (sings) -- (laughter.)  You don't want to get me preaching, now.  (Laughter.)     

 

For more than two centuries, we have strived, often at great cost, to form “a more perfect union” -- to make sure that “we, the people” applies to all the people.  Many of us are only here because others fought to secure rights and opportunities for us. And we’ve got a responsibility to do the same for future generations.  We’ve got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love -- no matter what, you can make it in this country. 

 

That’s the story of America.  That’s the story of this movement.  I want to thank all of you for doing your part.  We've got a long way to go, but I hope as everybody looks around this room, you are reminded of the extraordinary progress that we have made not just in our lifetimes, but in the last five years.  In the last two years.  (Applause.)  In the last one year.  (Applause.)  We're on the right side of history. 

 

I’m going to sign this executive order.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

 

(The executive order is signed.)

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

DeLauro co-sponsors bill in reaction to Hobby Lobby case


In a press release from the office of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, her office announced that  legislation responding to the Hobby Lobby decision has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

"The Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014 would prohibit for-profit employers who maintain group health plans for their employees from using religious beliefs to deny employees coverage of any vital health service required by federal law," the release said.

DeLauro "is an original co-sponsor of legislation responding to the Supreme Court's decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Burwell." the release said.

"Last week the United States Supreme Court put corporate desires before the needs of women and families, which is the exact opposite of the Affordable Care Act's intent. Women should be able to make their own health care decisions regardless of where they work and without interference from their bosses. This bill protects employees' rights to health services that an independent, non-partisan body has deemed crucial. It needs to be the law of the land."

The release also said: "The bill keeps in place the existing exemption for religious employers, such as houses of worship, and accommodation for religious non-profits that do not wish to provide contraception."

"Ninety-nine percent of sexually-active women use birth control at least once in their lifetimes, and 58 percent of oral contraceptive users cite non-contraceptive health benefits as reasons for using the pill. Fourteen percent of birth control pill users, more than 1,500,000 women, rely on birth control pills for only non-contraceptive purpose" Editor's note: All information in this post was contributed. Click one of the buttons below to share it.

McCaskill announces 'Campus Sexual Assault Survey Findings'

The results of "a first-of-its-kind national survey on campus sexual assaults" were announced Wednesday by U.S. Senator and former sex crimes prosecutor Claire McCaskill.

"The massive survey of schools will demonstrate exactly how colleges and universities handle rapes and sexual assaults on campuses—focusing on if and how such crimes are reported and investigated, how students are notified about available services, and the effectiveness of federal oversight and enforcement."

Read the report here:



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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Connecticut will have 23 primaries across the state on Aug. 12

In a press release, Sec. of the State Denise Merrill announced registered Democrats and Republicans in Connecticut will be able to vote Aug. 12, "in at least 23 primaries for state elections."

"Republican primaries will be held for the offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor and State Comptroller, as well as a number of state legislative seats and local offices such as Judge of Probate and Registrar of Voters.  Registered Democrats, depending on their geographic location, will be able to cast ballots in primaries for various state house and senate seats, Judge of Probate, and Registrar of Voters," the release said.

Tom Foley and John McKinney are the Republican candidates for governor. (Scroll down to see the full list of candidates in the primaries)

The release also noted: "There is no statewide Democratic primary on the ballot in 2014, nor is there any primary for federal office.  A list of primaries on the ballot for August 12, 2014 can be found below."
 
“It is important that voters are fully aware of the primaries taking place on August 12th,” Merrill said, also in the release. “We in Connecticut have a number of open seats in our General Assembly on both sides of the aisle, and many candidates lining up to replace outgoing legislators. I encourage registered Democrats and Republicans to find out about the candidates and make their voices heard on primary day by casting ballots.  Critical issues such as our economy and our state budget are at stake and will be impacted by the decisions made by those we choose to represent us in Hartford.  The more than 800,000 unaffiliated voters in Connecticut should also know they can take part in choosing Democratic or Republican candidates by enrolling with either party by August 11th at noon.”
 
Go to www.sots.ct.gov to learn how to register to vote, check registration status, find polling location, download absentee ballot applications, and view candidate lists.
 
The release also noted the deadline to register to vote in the Aug, 12 primary: Online voter registration and mail-in registration cards must be received by local Registrars of Voters by August 7.
 
"Voting age citizens and 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the general election can also register in-person at town offices until Monday, August 11th at 12:00 p.m. "
 
Unaffiliated voters face those same deadlines if they wish to enroll with a party in order to vote in the primaries. Any eligible voter can also register online at www.sots.ct.gov
 
Polls will be open for registered Democrats and Republicans on Primary Day in Connecticut August 12, 2014 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
 
Per the release, these primaries reported to the Office of the Secretary of the State will be on the ballot on August 12(* denotes party endorsed candidate):
 
Office

Party

Candidate

 
 
 
Governor
Republican
*Thomas C. Foley
 
 
John P. McKinney
 
 
 
Lieutenant Governor
Republican
*Penny Bacchiochi
 
 
Heather Somers
 
 
David M. Walker
 
 
 
Comptroller
Republican
*Sharon J. McLaughlin
 
 
Angel Cadena
 
 
 
State Senate – 2
Democratic
*Shawn Wooden
 
 
Eric D. Coleman
 
 
Len Walker
 
 
 
State Senate – 20
Democratic
*Elizabeth B. Ritter
 
 
William L. Satti
 
 
 
State Senate – 22
Democratic
*Anthony J. Musto
 
 
Marilyn Moore
 
 
 
State Senate – 23
Democratic
*Andres Ayala, Jr.
 
 
Scott Hughes
 
 
 
Assembly District – 7
Democratic
*Douglas McCroy
 
 
Donna Thompson-Daniel
 
 
 
Assembly District – 23
Republican
*Devin R. Carney
 
 
Vicki Lanier
 
 
 
Assembly District – 32
Democratic
*Kathleen G. Richards
 
 
Anthony “Tony” Salvatore
 
 
 
Assembly District – 44
Democratic
*Christine Rosati
 
 
Michael Cartier
 
 
 
Assembly District – 47
Republican
No Endorsement
 
 
Doug Dubitsky
 
 
Noah Enslow
 
 
Michael P. Meadows
 
 
 
Assembly District – 48
Democratic
*Linda A. Orange
 
 
Jason Paul
 
 
 
Assembly District – 64
Republican
*Brian Ohler
 
 
Mark Lauretano
 
 
 
Assembly District – 122
Republican
*Ben McGorty
 
 
Michael C. Vickerelli
 
 
 
Assembly District – 124
Democratic
*Ernie Newton
 
 
Andre Baker
 
 
 
Assembly District – 128
Democratic
*Christopher Rosario
 
 
Christina Ayala
 
 
Dennis Bradley
 
 
Teresa Davidson
 
 
 
Assembly District – 133
Democratic
*Cristin McCarthy Vahey
 
 
Matt Waggner
 
 
 
Assembly District – 137
Democratic
*David Watts
 
 
Chris Perone
 
 
 
Assembly District – 140
Democratic
*Bruce Morris
 
 
Warren Pena
 
 
 
Assembly District – 142
Republican
*Emily Wilson
 
 
Fred Wilms
 
 
 
Probate District Plainfield – Killingly – 27
Democratic
*Andrea Truppa
 
 
Anna Zubkova
 
 
 
Probate District Madison – Guilford – 34
Republican
*William Bilcheck
 
 
Gail S. Kotowski
 
Editor's note: All information in this post was contributed. Click one of the buttons below to share it.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Read Connecticut Supreme Court ruling on release of police information to public and media

According to The Associated Press: "The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that police statewide only have to release basic information about arrests to the public while prosecutions are pending, striking a blow to the media."

Read the court's full ruling here:

Connecticut Commission Public Safety vs FOI 312CR46


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Tom Foley cmpaign first ad of 2014 features his family

In a campaign press release, Today Tom Foley, party-endorsed Republican candidate for governor, released the campaign's first ad of the 2014 election cycle.  

 
The ad's  script according to the release, is:

Leslie: I’ve never met a more thoughtful, effective person than Tom Foley

Tom’s incredibly smart, he can fix anything

He’s a regular guy, whose ideas and humor bring people together

Tom’s an optimist who gets things done

He’s a great dad, who would make a great Governor
.

Tom: I’m Tom Foley; Connecticut’s problems can be fixed with smarter policies and new direction

Nobody should be doing better than right here in Connecticut

It’s time to restore prosperity and optimism in our great state.

I’m Tom Foley and I approve this message


  Foley faces state Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, in an Aug, 12 GOP primary.
 

Monday, June 30, 2014

'Department of Defense Releases Strategy to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction'

 
The following was released today by the U.S Department of Defense. It is unedited here:


Today the Department of Defense released its strategy for countering weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This strategy will direct the department's efforts to prevent hostile actors from acquiring WMD, contain and reduce WMD threats, and ensure that DOD can respond effectively to WMD crises.

"The pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and potential use by actors of concern pose a threat to U.S. national security and peace and stability around the world," Secretary Hagel writes in the foreword to the strategy. The constant evolution of WMD materials, tactics and technologies calls for flexible and innovative solutions from the full range of DOD tools and capabilities. This strategy places a premium on cooperative efforts to shape the environment and early action to prevent threats before they fully emerge.

The Department of Defense Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction seeks to ensure that the United States and its allies and partners are neither attacked nor coerced by hostile actors with WMD. "This strategy provides foundational guidance for enacting the department's countering WMD policies, plans, and programs and advances a comprehensive response to existing and developing WMD threats," Secretary Hagel writes. The strategy recognizes that, as we have seen in Syria, "instability in states pursuing or possessing WMD or related capabilities could lead to dangerous WMD crises" and calls upon DOD to improve collaboration and cooperation to reduce and eliminate such threats.

Recognizing that fiscal constraints require DOD to make strategic choices, the strategy emphasizes the importance of cooperating with partnersincluding other U.S. departments and agencies, allies and partners, and international bodies to achieve countering WMD goals.

Endorsing the strategy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey writes "Our capability to defeat aggression will not be undermined by the threatened or actual use of WMD."

Read the full strategy here.

A fact sheet on the strategy can be found here.

Connecticut politicians react to Hobby Lobby ruling

Per the Associated Press: "The Supreme Court says corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women." (scroll down to read the entire ruling)

After the ruling, Connecticut politicians and others reacted to it.

Here are some of the reaction (from emailed releases; more will be added as received):

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, (senior Democrat on the subcommittee responsible for funding the Department of Health and Human Services):

"Today's decision by the Supreme Court is a serious step backwards for women's health and will negatively affect not just women, but their families as well. The idea that a corporation's rights should be placed above the rights of women is outrageous. Women should be able to make their own health care decisions regardless of where they work and without interference from their bosses. Covering effective preventive services, which include contraception, is a critical part of the Affordable Care Act and should not be dependent on whether your boss says you can have access to basic health care."


U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.:

Today, the Supreme Court held for the first time that the religious rights of corporations trump the personal freedoms of American women. This decision undermines millions of American women's access to birth control. Religious liberty is about the right to practice your religion, not the right to impose your religion on your employees. Congress must act to restore workers' right to make their own health care decisions.”

Gov. Dannel Malloy:

“While we should all respect each other’s right to hold different positions based on religious beliefs, women should not be denied access to reproductive healthcare benefits due to the personal beliefs of their employer. Today’s decision from the Supreme Court is an affront to that very basic and fundamental idea,” said Governor Malloy. “In our diverse society, it is unconscionable that the religious beliefs of a private, for-profit employer can dictate the kind of medical care that is available to an employee.  We will review this decision and assess the impact it may have in Connecticut.”

Lt. Gov. Wyman:

“Providing the option of contraceptive coverage is part of serving the healthcare needs of women, it is just that simple,” said Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman. “Carving out exemptions to medicines or treatment is tantamount to restricting access—it puts women at risk and that is unacceptable. This Supreme Court decision reminds us that we have a lot left to do in our fight for equity for women.”


U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5,:

“Today’s ruling is misguided and extremely troubling,” Esty said. “A woman’s health care decisions should be made by the woman and her doctor—not her employer. The Supreme Court has extended the notion of corporate personhood to an extreme. Whether it is allowing corporations to flood money into our political elections in Citizens United or unduly restricting access to basic health care in today’s Hobby Lobby decision, the court is setting a dangerous and damaging precedent for our democracy.

“Every American deserves access to high-quality health care coverage and should have the ability to make their own medical and religious decisions, regardless of where they work. Birth control is basic, preventive health care relied on by millions of women and their families. Access to birth control is directly linked to the declining maternal and infant mortality rate, a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions, and better overall health and quality of life for women. Quite simply, access to effective birth control makes an enormous difference in women’s health and lives.  I strongly disagree with today’s ruling, which is a major step backwards in our pursuit for women’s rights and gender equality.

“I intend to work with my colleagues on legislation to reverse the Supreme Court’s misguided ruling to ensure basic protections for women’s health." Already, over 27 million women have benefited from the Affordable Care Act’s provision that requires insurance companies to cover birth control with no out-of-pocket cost.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen:
 "While my office is reviewing today's Supreme Court decisions – including what effect, if any, that Harris v. Quinn may have on home healthcare workers in the state of Connecticut – both of these decisions, while narrow in their scope, are disappointing.  I am deeply concerned about the impact of the decisions on working families and particularly about the disproportionate impact that the decisions may have on women in our country's workforce.
 
"My office joined with partner states on amicus briefs in both of these cases, and we will continue to support the rights of workers and the rights of women under our state and federal laws."
 
Christine A. Palm, communications director, Permanent Commission on the Status of Women:
 
“This appalling decision by the Supreme Court further erodes a woman’s autonomy over her own body and healthcare,” said Christine Palm, PCSW Communications Director. “To invest corporations with the power to be a regulating force over private matters sets a very bad precedent, and it cannot be overlooked that this decision affects women, not the full spectrum of the workforce.”
 
 

 Read or download the full ruling here:
 

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Read the Supreme Court case on abortion clinic buffer zones

The Associated Press reported that "The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a 35-foot protest-free zone outside abortion clinics in Massachusetts."


Read the ruling here:

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby on the USS Mesa Verde in Arabian Gulf

 
The following is a statement issued by the  U.S. Department of Defense related to Iraq (unedited here)

"Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde into the Arabian Gulf today. The ship has completed its transit through the Strait of Hormuz.

It's presence in the Gulf adds to that of other U.S. naval ships already there -- including the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush -- and provides the commander-in-chief additional options to protect American citizens and interests in Iraq, should he choose to use them.

USS Mesa Verde is capable of conducting a variety of quick reaction and crisis response operations. The ship carries a complement of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

USS Mesa Verde is part of the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, which departed Norfolk, Virginia, in February and is operating in the region on a routine deployment to support maritime security operations."

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Read: President Obama's remarks at West Point Academy commencement

In a press release, the White House sent the following (unedited here):
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

AT WEST POINT ACADEMY COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY

 

U.S. Military Academy-West Point

West Point, New York

 

 

10:22 A.M. EDT

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  And thank you, General Caslen, for that introduction.  To General Trainor, General Clarke, the faculty and staff at West Point -- you have been outstanding stewards of this proud institution and outstanding mentors for the newest officers in the United States Army.  I’d like to acknowledge the Army’s leadership -- General McHugh -- Secretary McHugh, General Odierno, as well as Senator Jack Reed, who is here, and a proud graduate of West Point himself. 

 

To the class of 2014, I congratulate you on taking your place on the Long Gray Line.  Among you is the first all-female command team -- Erin Mauldin and Austen Boroff.  In Calla Glavin, you have a Rhodes Scholar.  And Josh Herbeck proves that West Point accuracy extends beyond the three-point line.  To the entire class, let me reassure you in these final hours at West Point:  As Commander-in-Chief, I hereby absolve all cadets who are on restriction for minor conduct offenses.  (Laughter and applause.)  Let me just say that nobody ever did that for me when I was in school.  (Laughter.) 

 

I know you join me in extending a word of thanks to your families.  Joe DeMoss, whose son James is graduating, spoke for a whole lot of parents when he wrote me a letter about the sacrifices you’ve made.  “Deep inside,” he wrote, “we want to explode with pride at what they are committing to do in the service of our country.”  Like several graduates, James is a combat veteran.  And I would ask all of us here today to stand and pay tribute -- not only to the veterans among us, but to the more than 2.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families.  (Applause.)

 

This is a particularly useful time for America to reflect on those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom, a few days after Memorial Day.  You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.  (Applause.)  When I first spoke at West Point in 2009, we still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq.  We were preparing to surge in Afghanistan.  Our counterterrorism efforts were focused on al Qaeda’s core leadership -- those who had carried out the 9/11 attacks.  And our nation was just beginning a long climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

 

Four and a half years later, as you graduate, the landscape has changed.  We have removed our troops from Iraq.  We are winding down our war in Afghanistan.  Al Qaeda’s leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more.  (Applause.)  And through it all, we’ve refocused our investments in what has always been a key source of American strength:  a growing economy that can provide opportunity for everybody who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home.

 

In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.  Those who argue otherwise -- who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away -- are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.  Think about it.  Our military has no peer.  The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.

Meanwhile, our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth; our businesses the most innovative.  Each year, we grow more energy independent.  From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations.  America continues to attract striving immigrants.  The values of our founding inspire leaders in parliaments and new movements in public squares around the globe.  And when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help.  (Applause.)  So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.  That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.

 

But the world is changing with accelerating speed.  This presents opportunity, but also new dangers.  We know all too well, after 9/11, just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.  Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors.  From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums.  And even as developing nations embrace democracy and market economies, 24-hour news and social media makes it impossible to ignore the continuation of sectarian conflicts and failing states and popular uprisings that might have received only passing notice a generation ago.

 

It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world.  The question we face, the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead -- not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.

 

Now, this question isn’t new.  At least since George Washington served as Commander-in-Chief, there have been those who warned against foreign entanglements that do not touch directly on our security or economic wellbeing.  Today, according to self-described realists, conflicts in Syria or Ukraine or the Central African Republic are not ours to solve.  And not surprisingly, after costly wars and continuing challenges here at home, that view is shared by many Americans.

 

A different view from interventionists from the left and right says that we ignore these conflicts at our own peril; that America’s willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos, and America’s failure to act in the face of Syrian brutality or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience, but invites escalating aggression in the future.

 

And each side can point to history to support its claims. But I believe neither view fully speaks to the demands of this moment.  It is absolutely true that in the 21st century American isolationism is not an option.  We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders.  If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American cities.  As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.  Regional aggression that goes unchecked -- whether in southern Ukraine or the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world -- will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military.  We can’t ignore what happens beyond our boundaries.

 

And beyond these narrow rationales, I believe we have a real stake, an abiding self-interest, in making sure our children and our grandchildren grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped and where individuals are not slaughtered because of tribe or faith or political belief.  I believe that a world of greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative, it also helps to keep us safe.

 

But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution.  Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences -- without building international support and legitimacy for our action; without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.  Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans.  As General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947:  “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.”

 

Like Eisenhower, this generation of men and women in uniform know all too well the wages of war, and that includes those of you here at West Point.  Four of the servicemembers who stood in the audience when I announced the surge of our forces in Afghanistan gave their lives in that effort.  A lot more were wounded.  I believe America’s security demanded those deployments.  But I am haunted by those deaths.  I am haunted by those wounds.  And I would betray my duty to you and to the country we love if I ever sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed to be fixed, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.  

 

Here’s my bottom line:  America must always lead on the world stage.  If we don’t, no one else will.  The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership.  But U.S. military action cannot be the only -- or even primary -- component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.  And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader -- and especially your Commander-in-Chief -- to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.

 

So let me spend the rest of my time describing my vision for how the United States of America and our military should lead in the years to come, for you will be part of that leadership.  

 

First, let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency:  The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it -- when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger.  In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just.  International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland, or our way of life.  (Applause.)  

 

On the other hand, when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake -- when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us -- then the threshold for military action must be higher.  In such circumstances, we should not go it alone.  Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action.  We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law; and, if just, necessary and effective, multilateral military action.  In such circumstances, we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, less likely to lead to costly mistakes.

 

This leads to my second point:  For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.  But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.  I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy -- drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.

 

And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al Qaeda leadership.  Instead, it comes from decentralized al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in countries where they operate.  And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi.  It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi. 

 

So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat -- one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments.  We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.  And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan. 

 

Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al Qaeda core and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.  But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job.  And that’s why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police.  Earlier this spring, those forces, those Afghan forces, secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer of power in their history.  And at the end of this year, a new Afghan President will be in office and America’s combat mission will be over.  (Applause.)

 

Now, that was an enormous achievement made because of America’s armed forces.  But as we move to a train-and-advise mission in Afghanistan, our reduced presence allows us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa.  So, earlier this year, I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel.  Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.  And these resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al Qaeda; supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali.

 

A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria.  As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon.  As President, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian war, and I believe that is the right decision.  But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people.  And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.  

 

So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors -- Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey and Iraq -- as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders.  I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.  And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis, and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share to support the Syrian people.

 

Let me make one final point about our efforts against terrorism.  The partnerships I’ve described do not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. When we have actionable intelligence, that’s what we do -- through capture operations like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice; or drone strikes like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia.  There are times when those actions are necessary, and we cannot hesitate to protect our people. 

 

But as I said last year, in taking direct action we must uphold standards that reflect our values.  That means taking strikes only when we face a continuing, imminent threat, and only where there is no certainty -- there is near certainty of no civilian casualties.  For our actions should meet a simple test:  We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.

 

I also believe we must be more transparent about both the basis of our counterterrorism actions and the manner in which they are carried out.  We have to be able to explain them publicly, whether it is drone strikes or training partners.  I will increasingly turn to our military to take the lead and provide information to the public about our efforts.  Our intelligence community has done outstanding work, and we have to continue to protect sources and methods.  But when we cannot explain our efforts clearly and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and international suspicion, we erode legitimacy with our partners and our people, and we reduce accountability in our own government.

 

And this issue of transparency is directly relevant to a third aspect of American leadership, and that is our effort to strengthen and enforce international order. 

 

After World War II, America had the wisdom to shape institutions to keep the peace and support human progress -- from NATO and the United Nations, to the World Bank and IMF.  These institutions are not perfect, but they have been a force multiplier.  They reduce the need for unilateral American action and increase restraint among other nations. 

 

Now, just as the world has changed, this architecture must change as well.  At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy spoke about the need for a peace based upon, “a gradual evolution in human institutions.”  And evolving these international institutions to meet the demands of today must be a critical part of American leadership. 

 

Now, there are a lot of folks, a lot of skeptics, who often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action.  For them, working through international institutions like the U.N. or respecting international law is a sign of weakness.  I think they’re wrong.  Let me offer just two examples why.

 

In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe.   But this isn’t the Cold War.  Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away.  Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions; Europe and the G7 joined us to impose sanctions; NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies; the IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine’s economy; OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine.  And this mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.

 

This weekend, Ukrainians voted by the millions.  Yesterday, I spoke to their next President.  We don’t know how the situation will play out and there will remain grave challenges ahead, but standing with our allies on behalf of international order working with international institutions, has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future without us firing a shot. 

 

Similarly, despite frequent warnings from the United States and Israel and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years.  But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government.  And now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully. 

 

The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement -- one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force.  And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side.

 

The point is this is American leadership.  This is American strength.  In each case, we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge.  Now we need to do more to strengthen the institutions that can anticipate and prevent problems from spreading.  For example, NATO is the strongest alliance the world has ever known.  But we’re now working with NATO allies to meet new missions, both within Europe where our Eastern allies must be reassured, but also beyond Europe’s borders where our NATO allies must pull their weight to counterterrorism and respond to failed states and train a network of partners.

 

Likewise, the U.N. provides a platform to keep the peace in states torn apart by conflict.  Now we need to make sure that those nations who provide peacekeepers have the training and equipment to actually keep the peace, so that we can prevent the type of killing we’ve seen in Congo and Sudan.  We are going to deepen our investment in countries that support these peacekeeping missions, because having other nations maintain order in their own neighborhoods lessens the need for us to put our own troops in harm’s way.  It’s a smart investment.  It’s the right way to lead.  (Applause.) 

 

Keep in mind, not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict.  We have a serious problem with cyber-attacks, which is why we’re working to shape and enforce rules of the road to secure our networks and our citizens.  In the Asia Pacific, we’re supporting Southeast Asian nations as they negotiate a code of conduct with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.  And we’re working to resolve these disputes through international law.  That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change -- a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters and conflicts over water and food, which is why next year I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet. 

 

You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example.  We can’t exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everybody else.  We can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it’s taking place.  We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by our United States Senate, despite the fact that our top military leaders say the treaty advances our national security.  That’s not leadership; that’s retreat.  That’s not strength; that’s weakness.  It would be utterly foreign to leaders like Roosevelt and Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

 

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.  But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.  (Applause.)  And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo -- because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence -- because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.  (Applause.)  America does not simply stand for stability or the absence of conflict, no matter what the cost.  We stand for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere. 

 

Which brings me to the fourth and final element of American leadership:  Our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.  America’s support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism -- it is a matter of national security.  Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war.  Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods.  Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.

 

A new century has brought no end to tyranny.  In capitals around the globe -- including, unfortunately, some of America’s partners -- there has been a crackdown on civil society.  The cancer of corruption has enriched too many governments and their cronies, and enraged citizens from remote villages to iconic squares.  And watching these trends, or the violent upheavals in parts of the Arab World, it’s easy to be cynical.

 

But remember that because of America’s efforts, because of American diplomacy and foreign assistance as well as the sacrifices of our military, more people live under elected governments today than at any time in human history.  Technology is empowering civil society in ways that no iron fist can control.  New breakthroughs are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.  And even the upheaval of the Arab World reflects the rejection of an authoritarian order that was anything but stable, and now offers the long-term prospect of more responsive and effective governance. 

 

In countries like Egypt, we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests -- from peace treaties with Israel, to shared efforts against violent extremism.  So we have not cut off cooperation with the new government, but we can and will persistently press for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded.

 

And meanwhile, look at a country like Burma, which only a few years ago was an intractable dictatorship and hostile to the United States -- 40 million people.  Thanks to the enormous courage of the people in that country, and because we took the diplomatic initiative, American leadership, we have seen political reforms opening a once closed society; a movement by Burmese leadership away from partnership with North Korea in favor of engagement with America and our allies.  We’re now supporting reform and badly needed national reconciliation through assistance and investment, through coaxing and, at times, public criticism.  And progress there could be reversed, but if Burma succeeds we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot.  American leadership.

 

In each of these cases, we should not expect change to happen overnight.  That’s why we form alliances not just with governments, but also with ordinary people.  For unlike other nations, America is not afraid of individual empowerment, we are strengthened by it.  We’re strengthened by civil society.  We’re strengthened by a free press.  We’re strengthened by striving entrepreneurs and small businesses.  We’re strengthened by educational exchange and opportunity for all people, and women and girls.  That’s who we are.  That’s what we represent.  (Applause.)  

 

I saw that through a trip to Africa last year, where American assistance has made possible the prospect of an AIDS-free generation, while helping Africans care themselves for their sick.  We’re helping farmers get their products to market, to feed populations once endangered by famine.  We aim to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa so people are connected to the promise of the global economy.  And all this creates new partners and shrinks the space for terrorism and conflict. 

 

Now, tragically, no American security operation can eradicate the threat posed by an extremist group like Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped those girls.  And that’s why we have to focus not just on rescuing those girls right away, but also on supporting Nigerian efforts to educate its youth.  This should be one of the hard-earned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where our military became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development.  They understood that foreign assistance is not an afterthought, something nice to do apart from our national defense, apart from our national security.  It is part of what makes us strong.

 

Ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty.  We have to be prepared for the worst, prepared for every contingency.  But American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be -- a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters; where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in a direction of justice.  And we cannot do that without you.

 

Class of 2014, you have taken this time to prepare on the quiet banks of the Hudson.  You leave this place to carry forward a legacy that no other military in human history can claim.  You do so as part of a team that extends beyond your units or even our Armed Forces, for in the course of your service you will work as a team with diplomats and development experts.  You’ll get to know allies and train partners.  And you will embody what it means for America to lead the world.

 

Next week, I will go to Normandy to honor the men who stormed the beaches there.  And while it’s hard for many Americans to comprehend the courage and sense of duty that guided those who boarded small ships, it’s familiar to you.  At West Point, you define what it means to be a patriot.

 

Three years ago, Gavin White graduated from this academy. He then served in Afghanistan.  Like the soldiers who came before him, Gavin was in a foreign land, helping people he’d never met, putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of his community and his family, of the folks back home.  Gavin lost one of his legs in an attack.  I met him last year at Walter Reed.  He was wounded, but just as determined as the day that he arrived here at West Point -- and he developed a simple goal.  Today, his sister Morgan will graduate.  And true to his promise, Gavin will be there to stand and exchange salutes with her.  (Applause.) 

 

We have been through a long season of war.  We have faced trials that were not foreseen, and we’ve seen divisions about how to move forward.  But there is something in Gavin’s character, there is something in the American character that will always triumph.  Leaving here, you carry with you the respect of your fellow citizens.  You will represent a nation with history and hope on our side.  Your charge, now, is not only to protect our country, but to do what is right and just.   As your Commander-in-Chief, I know you will.

 

May God bless you.  May God bless our men and women in uniform.  And may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

 

                        END                11:08 A.M. EDT

 

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