WASHINGTON — President Obama started his second term with a traditional worship service and a challenge to help heal the nation’s divides.
“We find ourselves desperately longing to find common ground, to find a common vision, to be one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for everyone,” said the Rev. Adam Hamilton, the Kansas City pastor chosen to preach Tuesday at the National Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral. “In this city and in this room, are the people who can help.”
The inaugural service carried that theme for more than an hour, presenting the nation’s rainbow of faiths and cultures with a bilingual welcome and reading from the Gospel of Matthew, and an imam and Christian and Jewish cantors taking turns calling the congregation to prayer.
The service of petitions and patriotism included a Sikh woman calling for “concern for our neighbors” and a Catholic layman urging a remembrance of Americans’ interdependence. The red, white, and blue theme extended to the altar flowers and a worshipper’s flag-festooned headscarf.
Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of President Barack Obama's remarks following his swearing in during Monday's Inauguration ceremony.
THE PRESIDENT: Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. (Applause.) The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
And for more than two hundred years, we have.
A lot of ink, pixels, and air have been used on the potential effects of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” While many experts say that “cliff” is a misnomer (it’s more of long slope in the wrong direction), there is at least broad agreement that it’s not the right direction for the country’s long-term health.
We’ve heard a lot about the potential effects on Wall Street, our nation’s credit rating, and even the military. But little has been said about the devastating consequences for our nation and the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — or for the charities and non-profits that serve them.
This week, the Circle of Protection, released an open letter to the president and Congress with a simple message: during the holidays, please “advance policies that protect the poor — not ones that make them poorer.”
Jim Wallis, President and CEO of Sojourners, met with President Barack Obama and other key officials at the White House on Friday to discuss the fiscal cliff, and urge a fair budget deal that does not harm the poor and vulnarable. After the meeting, he sat down with Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC's Politics Nation to talk about the results of the meeting.
The election is finally over, and both parties understand the key role Latino voters played in the outcome. The balance of power in Washington remains the same, but the political winds have shifted dramatically on immigration. During the campaign, President Barack Obama promised to pass immigration reform if reelected. House Speaker John Boehner also recently stated that a “comprehensive approach is long overdue.”
Momentum is building. A new consensus is emerging. Progress is possible.
By the time President Obama walked off the stage at Chicago’s McCormick Place after delivering his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning, pundits already were screaming HERE COMES THE FISCAL CLIFF!
And while it might have been a nice idea to take a collective breath after such a divisive election season before new screeching began, the pundits were not wrong.
Be warned: The Fiscal Cliff approaches. On Jan. 2, 2013, to be exact.
Now, I am many things, but an economist (or even a person remotely comfortable with numbers) is not one of them. So let me explain to those of you who are like me, in the simplest terms possible, what this proverbial cliff is all about.
In the wake of the debt ceiling crisis last summer, Congress and President Obama agreed to enter into negotiations to enact a 10-year deficit reduction package in excess of $1.2 trillion.
If an agreement could not be reached, a mandatory, across-the-board reduction in spending (also known as “sequester” or “sequestration”) would occur. All discretionary and entitlement spending -- with a few exceptions -- would be subject to sequestration....
Under sequestration, the U.S. foreign aid that has made such a tremendous difference in Ethiopia and in the lives of countless millions of desperately poor Africans (and others) is in grave jeopardy.
President Obama on Tuesday gave a forceful speech at the United Nations, in which he challenged much of the world's assumptions about free speech and religion.
Here are five points from his address, which together, add up to as close to an Obama Doctrine on Religion as we've seen:
1. Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerable
The idea that the U.S. protects even vile speech, so ingrained in American culture, seems counterintuitive to much of the world. It’s an especially tough concept when speech targets a religion, but Obama argued that restrictions on speech too often become weapons to suppress religion – especially the rights of religious minorities.
In December, I will be hosting a public reading of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
I am doing so because page 45 of this 67 page document contains a generic, non-binding apology to native peoples on behalf of the citizens of the United States.
The text of the apology included in the defense appropriations bill reads:
Apology to Native Peoples of the United States
Sec. 8113. (a) Acknowledgment and Apology- The United States, acting through Congress —
(1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;
(2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;
(3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;
(4) apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States;
(5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;
(6) urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and
(7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.
This apology was not publicized by the White House or Congress. As a result, a majority of the 350 million citizens of the United States do not know they have been apologized for, and most of the 5 million Indigenous Peoples of this land do not know they have been apologized to.
While the country continues to be outraged over the shootings in Aurora, Colo., lobbyists on both sides of the gun debate, talking heads, and politicians are using it as an opportunity to push their agendas. Perhaps one of the most controversial is the erection of a billboard picturing shooter James Holmes beside President Barack Obama, paralleling the shooting to the war in Afghanistan.
To read more from The Atlantic Wire and view the billboard, click HERE.
Writing for The Atlantic, Derek Thompson takes a look at what the President's tax plan actually does:
"In the long run, historically low tax rates for the "bottom" 98 percent aren't sustainable. For President Obama, demanding higher taxes on rich people is the easy part. Three in five people told Gallup that "upper-income people" were paying too little in federal taxes, Molly Ball reported. The hard part is facing up to the long-term reality that historically low tax rates on 98 percent of Americans is no way to pay for historically high entitlements for 100 percent of Americans."
Learn more here
Yesterday, as Congress battled over the future of interest rates on student loans, I was invited to the East Room of the White House to hear President Obama call on Congress to keep college affordable. Upon arrival, I found that most of the invitees were college students 20 years old and younger—at 36, I felt pretty old.
It was like being at a rally at on a college campus. What made it interesting was that Obama was directly speaking to those most affected by this pending Congressional action – college students.
College students who need to borrow for school, on average graduate with more than $25,000 in debt.
On July 1, the federal interest rate for student loans is scheduled to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent unless Congress intervenes. The new rate would affect federally subsidized Stafford loans, which are provided to almost 7.5 million low- and moderate-income students nationwide each year.
In this clever mashup, the POTUS gives a new take on Carly Rae Jespen's radio hit "Call Me Maybe." While it may not be as endearing as his rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," it still gives us something to smile at until the next musical tribute.
WASHINGTON — The 200 or so African-American pastors gathered here for the Conference of National Black Churches feel strongly about the topic of gay marriage, some for, many against. But there's one thing nearly all of them agree on.
The issue won't distract black voters from supporting President Obama's reelection.
Last month, White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan acknowledged in a public speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center that the United States was using armed unmanned drones to kill alleged militants.
Brennan’s acknowledgement was the only “new” news.
Beginning in earnest under President George W. Bush and dramatically escalating under President Barack Obama, the United States is now using drones in four countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia), and has used them in two others (Iraq and Libya). Going by the names Reaper and Predator, firing missiles named Hellfire, the drones are responsible for thousands of deaths, including hundreds of women and children.
There are three major reasons opponents of the unmanned death planes usually give. First, in fighting against terrorist and insurgent organizations, the United States has adopted a kill — not capture — strategy. With a “kill list” of targets, the attacks aim at known or suspected leaders.
Second, the attacks can be carried out with no danger to American troops. Remotely guided from distant locations, drones are a way of carrying out risk-free military operations. Third, with the attacks increasingly under the control of the CIA rather than the military, they can be conducted with a high degree of secrecy. Whom the drones targeted and killed, and how many civilians may have also been killed, is free of scrutiny.
In a room filled with African heads of state, captains of industry, leaders of international development and countless executives from NGOs at the G8 Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington, D.C. late last week, stood one Irish rock star — Bono, the lead singer of U2 and co-founder of the ONE Campaign.
At first blush (to the uninitiated, perhaps), Bono's presence might seem incongruous, but most of the folks in the room at the Ronald Reagan building a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue know the Irishman more for his tireless humanitarian efforts than his closet full of Grammy awards. For more than 25 years, Bono, 52, has been involved deeply and effectively in international affairs as a champion for the poorest of the poor.
"Can we manage the oil as well as the farmland? Manage it properly, responsibly, transparently?" Bono asked the audience. "Because when we don’t, you know what happens. Hundreds of billions of dollars got lost to oil and gas corruption in Nigeria. That’s what the watchdog groups are telling us. Just mind blowing. Huge numbers.
"Crops need sunlight. So does resource extraction. Both need sunlight’s disinfecting glare. Isn’t transparency the vaccine to prevent the worst disease of them all? Corruption. Everybody here knows that corruption kills more children than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. So that’s what I want to leave you with. That very simple word. That very simple concept. Easy to say. Much harder to realize, especially in law. The word 'transparency.'
"We won’t have food security without it," he said. "But we will have oil riches without it but those riches will be held and hidden by very few hands."
The Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security, Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit, is set to begin soon with the following leaders in attendance:
- President Barack Obama
- Dr. Yayi Boni, President of the Republic of Benin & Chairperson of the African Union
- Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia
- John Evans Atta Mills, President of Ghana
- His Excellency Jakaya Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania
- Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary, United States Department of State
- Rajiv Shah, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
- Bono, Co-Founder of ONE and (RED)
- Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director, UN World Food Programme
- Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, President, International Fund for Agricultural Development
- Ms. Josette Sheeran, Vice Chairman, World Economic Forum
Editor's Note: Yesterday, President Obama announced his personal support for same-sex marriage. Within the Christian community and the nation at large, there are a diversity of opinions regarding human sexuality. While often a divisive issue, Sojourners has released the following statement encouraging respect for equal rights, religious liberty, and civil discourse.
"Sojourners supports equal protection under the law and full legal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation. We affirm the right of faith communities, congregations, and religious organizations to define marriage in accordance with their own traditions and interpretation of Scripture....
TRANSCRIPT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA'S INTERVIEW WITH ABC NEWS ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE, MOTHER'S DAY, ET AL
ROBIN ROBERTS: Mr. President. Thank you for this opportunity to talk to you about-- various issues. And it's been quite a week and it's only Wednesday. (LAUGH)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: That's typical of my week.
ROBIN ROBERTS: I'm sure it is. One of the hot button issues because of things that have been said by members of your administration, same-sex marriage. In fact, your press secretary yesterday said he would leave it to you to discuss your personal views on that. So Mr. President, are you still opposed to same-sex marriage?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well — you know, I have to tell you, as I've said, I've — I've been going through an evolution on this issue. I've always been adamant that — gay and lesbian-- Americans should be treated fairly and equally. And that's why in addition to everything we've done in this administration, rolling back Don't Ask, Don't Tell — so that — you know, outstanding Americans can serve our country. Whether it's no longer defending the Defense Against Marriage Act, which — tried to federalize — what is historically been state law.
I've stood on the side of broader equality for — the L.G.B.T. community. And I had hesitated on gay marriage — in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. That that was something that would give people hospital visitation rights and — other — elements that we take for granted. And — I was sensitive to the fact that — for a lot of people, you know, the — the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs, and so f-orth.
Glenn Kessler, writer of the Washington Post Factchecker column, issues a challenge to President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney:
"With the presidential election looming in exactly six months, I would like to issue a challenge to you both: Give at least one campaign speech, on a substantive policy issue, lasting at least 15 minutes, that does not contain a single factual error or misstatement. That means no sugar-coating of your record, no exaggerated claims about your opponent’s record, and no assertions that are technically true but lack crucial context."
I’m not holding my breath for the challenge to be accepted.