Friday, March 22, 2013

President Obama Holds a Press Conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan

March 22, 2013 | 45:36 | Public Domain
President Obama and His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan hold a press conference.

Remarks by President Obama and His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan in Joint Press Conference

Al Hummar Offices
Amman, Jordan

8:23 P.M. EEST

HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH: First of all, Mr. President, if you allow me, on behalf of myself and all Jordanians, to welcome you and your distinguished delegation back here in Jordan. I fondly remember your visit here several years ago when you were a senator, and it is a great delight to welcome you back to Jordan as the President of the United States, enjoying your second term.

We are delighted in the in-depth discussions that were very, very fruitful on our strategic and historic partnership, and you have been an old friend, as has the United States, for so many decades. We are very grateful to you, sir, and the administration, as well as Congress and the American people, for the continued support that has been shown to Jordan over so many years. And the U.S. assistance that has helped us throughout so many years has allowed us to get Jordan to where we are today, and hopefully will continue to help us advance our shared goals of development, security and regional peace.

We did have the opportunity to discuss Syria. And obviously we are all horrified by the loss of life and the brutality of the conflict. We are extremely concerned of the risk of prolonged sectarian conflict that, if it continues as we're seeing, leads to the fragmentation of Syria, which obviously will have disastrous consequences on the region for generations to come. Therefore it is important to have an immediate need for an inclusive political transition that ends the conflict and the threats that emanate from it.

What we are facing now, today, obviously is an urgent need for the international community to help in humanitarian assistance to catch up to the challenges that we are facing as the countries bordering Syria. And not only do we need to look at the ability to stockpile humanitarian supplies to the Syrian people inside their country, but also to be able to assist those that have fled.

Jordan today is hosting, by far, the largest number of Syrian refugees. The numbers have just exceeded 460,000 Syrians. That is 10 percent of our population. And the alarming figures, if the rates continue as we’re seeing today, will probably double by the end of the year. So for the Americans in the audience, that’s the equivalent of 30 million refugees crossing into the United States -- the possibility of that going up to 60 million by the end of the year -- relative, obviously, to our populations.

The refugee camp in the north -- Zaatari refugee camp -- today is the fifth largest city in Jordan. And obviously this has added economic and financial costs due to the influx, and has further strained the economy that is already under considerable external pressures with an unstable region, a sluggish global economy that is still recovering.

But having said that, as I already alluded to, we are so grateful to the U.S. assistance in shouldering this enormous responsibility, and together we continue to appeal to the international community for more help to face this humanitarian calamity.

We had the opportunity obviously to talk about the peace process. And we’re very delighted by the vision and the depth of wisdom that the President showed over the past several days in his trip with the Israelis and the Palestinians. Obviously, I reiterate Jordan’s commitment to the peace process and the crucial importance of U.S. leadership in resuming the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations based on the two-state solution.

There is simply no other formula, no other alternative. The two-state solution is the only way to go. And if you compare that also with the radicalization of Syria, together with the impasse in the peace process, this is going to be a serious threat to an already volatile region.

I believe there is a window of opportunity to make a serious push for resuming negotiations on the final status issues. But the window, I believe, is fast closing -- primarily due to increasing settlement activities. So there is no time to wait.

And lastly, I had the opportunity with the Prime Minister-designate to share details of Jordan’s homegrown reform model and its supporting road map. We believe that we have a model that has a clear end goal of parliamentary government with milestones and prerequisites, built on a strong democratic institution that guarantees checks and balances of proper democracy, an empowered parliament, and a new constitutional court.

We also have a new independent elections commission, and we’re looking at Jordan as a model that is evolutionary, consensual and peaceful, and ensures pluralism, openness, tolerance, moderation, and unity -- and equally as important, a level playing field. This will ensure safeguards for civil liberties and political rights, and obviously encourage political participation.

Today, we’re looking forward to our Prime Minister-designate forming his parliamentary government, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. Based on his consultations with Parliament, which is an extension of the same consultation process that led to his designation as a result of receiving the highest number of nominations.

So I’m very proud of the progress so far. The hard work is definitely ahead of us. This is the Jordanian moment. What we’re seeing is the third way in the Middle East -- we are seeing that the Arab Spring is behind us; we in Jordan are looking now at the Arab Summer for us all, which means that we all have to roll our sleeves. It’s going to be a bumpy and difficult road, but I am very encouraged with the process and I am very excited about the future.

So, again, Mr. President, very welcome to Jordan. I wish you all the success in what you’ve been able to achieve in the past several days, and I hope that the success will continue in your visit here to Jordan.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much.

Well, it’s a great pleasure to be back in Jordan. I’m grateful to my good friend, His Majesty King Abdullah. Thank you for your kind words. Thank you to the Jordanian people for the extraordinary warmth and hospitality that I remembered well from my first visit as a senator.

The thing I mainly remember when I came here was that His Majesty was kind enough to personally drive me to the airport. I won’t tell you how fast he was going, but Secret Service I don't think could keep up. (Laughter.) So, nevertheless, we're very much appreciative for you welcoming me and my delegation.

The reason I'm here is simple. Jordan is an invaluable ally. It is a great friend. We've been working together since the early years of the Kingdom under His Majesty’s great-grandfather, King Adbullah I, who gave his life in the name of peace. Today, our partnership in development, education, health, science, technology, improve the lives of our peoples. Our close security cooperation helps keep your citizens and ours safe from terrorism. Your military and police help train other security forces from the Palestinian Authority to Yemen.

And I’m especially grateful to His Majesty, who, like his father -- memorialized by the mosque I saw when I arrived -- is a force for peace in word and in deed. You’ve invested deeply and personally in strengthening the ties between our countries. That's why you were the first Arab leader I welcomed to the Oval Office when I became President. And I very much appreciate the work we’ve done together on a broad range of challenges. So I’ve come to Jordan to build on what is already a very strong foundation and to deepen what is already extraordinary cooperation.

As His Majesty mentioned, today was a chance for me to hear from him about the necessary political reforms that are underway here. And I want to commend the people of Jordan on this year’s parliamentary elections, which represented a positive step toward a more transparent and credible and inclusive political process. I appreciated hearing His Majesty’s plans for a parliamentary government that responds to the aspirations of the Jordanian people, and I very much welcome his commitment to active citizenship where citizens play a larger role in the future of this nation.

At a time of so much change and tumult across the region, I think His Majesty recognizes Jordan has a great opportunity to show the benefits of genuine and peaceful reform, including stronger political parties and good governance and transparency
-- all of which makes government more effective and makes sure that the people feel a connection to their government.

Your Majesty, you've been a driving force for these efforts, and you can be assured that the United States will continue to work with you and Prime Minister Ensour as you build on this progress.

We also discussed the economic progress that has to come with political progress. The Jordanian government is working hard to manage its current budget challenges. I think His Majesty outlined the enormous pressures that Jordan is experiencing, often not because of any factors internal, but rather a range of external factors as well. And I recognize that while the economic reforms are difficult, they are essential over the long term to creating the kind of growth and opportunity and dynamism in the economy that will help the Jordanian people achieve their dreams. So we want you to succeed.

So my administration is, therefore, working with Congress to provide loan guarantees to Jordan this year. Together, I believe we can help deliver the results that Jordanians deserve -- to see their schools better, their roads improved, health care, clean water all enhanced; the training that I know a lot of Jordanians seek, particularly young people, to get a job or to turn entrepreneurial skills into a business that creates even more jobs.

And I was proud to welcome some young Jordanians to the Entrepreneurship Summit that I hosted back in Washington. And we’re going to continue to focus on creating economic opportunities, because the people here in Jordan deserve the same opportunities as people everywhere.

We spent a good deal of time on regional challenges. And I updated His Majesty on my discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. As I said in my speech yesterday, I believe there are steps that both sides can take to build confidence and trust, and move a serious negotiation forward. We're not there yet, but I'm confident that it can happen -- in part, because it must happen. It will be good for the Israelis and it will be good for the Palestinians.

I’m very grateful for His Majesty’s readiness to advance these efforts. As has been true in the past, His Majesty and Jordan will be critical to making progress towards a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

And we spent a significant amount of time consulting on Syria. I want to commend His Majesty for his leadership, and I want to commend the Jordanian people for their compassion during an extraordinarily difficult time for their neighbors. His Majesty was the first Arab leader to publicly call on Assad to step down because of the horrific violence that was being inflicted on the Syrian people. Jordan has played a leading role in trying to begin a political transition toward a new government. We're working together to strengthen a credible Syrian opposition.

We share Jordan’s concerns about violence spilling across the border, so I want to take this opportunity to make it clear the United States is committed to the security of Jordan, which is backed by our strong alliance.

As has been mentioned, during this crisis the Jordanian people have displayed extraordinary generosity, but the strains of so many refugees, inevitably, is showing. Every day Jordanians are extending a hand of support to neighbors far from home, but this is a heavy burden. And the international community needs to step up to make sure that they are helping to shoulder this burden.

The United States will certainly do our part. We are already the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. Some of this has helped people here in Jordan, and today I'm announcing that my administration will work with Congress to provide Jordan with an additional $200 million in budget support this year, as it cares for Syrian refugees and Jordanian communities affected by this crisis.

This will mean more humanitarian assistance in basic services, including education for Syrian children so far from home whose lives have been upended. And I think, as parents, we can only imagine how heartbreaking that must be for any parent to see their children having to go through the kinds of tumult that they’re experiencing.

Our cooperation on Syria is an example of how the partnership between the United States and Jordan improves the lives not only of the Jordanian people, but peoples across the region.

So, again, Your Majesty, I want to express my great appreciation for our partnership. I want to thank you and the Jordanian people for the friendship and hospitality that they’ve shown me and to my fellow Americans. And just as I visited the Citadel here in Amman on my last visit, I'm looking forward to seeing Petra tomorrow -- weather permitting -- one of the great wonders of history that the world can experience, thanks to the care and dedication of Jordan and its people.

Shukran. Thank you.


Q Thank you, Your Majesty, Mr. President.

Sir, I want to ask you, Your Majesty, for how long are you going to keep your borders open for the Syrian refugees? Next to you is a land of war, and anything could happen any time. If regime, let’s say, shut off electricity or the water -- you are not too far from Damascus, the capital. It’s like minutes and not hours. You might find thousands and thousands of refugees, not just those that you spoke about, Your Majesty.

And, Mr. President, thank you again, and I just want to know -- you are a superpower; you are leading the super power, the United States of America. You don’t have a plan to put an end for what’s going on in Syria -- the bloodshed, the killing. And now they are talking about using a chemical weapon. What’s your comment about that?

Thank you, Your Majesty.

HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH: Well, first of all, the problem with refugees comes down to an humanitarian issue. I mean, how are you going to turn back women, children, and the wounded? This is something that we just can’t do. It’s not the Jordanian way. We have historically opened our arms to many of our neighbors through many decades of Jordan’s history. So that means a challenge that we just can’t turn our backs on. So that’s the reality that we are facing on the ground. So Jordan has always been a safe haven to people around us through many, many decades. So, unfortunately, from our point of view, refugees will continue to come to Jordan, and we will continue, within our means, to look after them as best as we can.

The problem is obviously the burden it’s having on Jordan. We’ve tried to quantify it as much as possible -- the latest figures are just going to cost us roughly $550 million a year. But if those figures double, as we think they will, by the end of the year, then, obviously, we’re talking a billion-plus. Not only is that a problem, but it’s going to be a tremendous strain, obviously, on infrastructure and it’s creating social problems and security problems.

And so this is one of the reasons that we’re asking for the international community to help. But physically, we can’t turn away young children, women, people in desperate need, and the wounded. So we will continue to burden that responsibility.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Since the start of the situation in Syria, we have stepped up, as not just a superpower, as you phrased it, but also because of basic humanity, to say that Assad needed to go. We haven’t just led with words, but we’ve also led with deeds. As I indicated, we're the single largest humanitarian donor to the Syrian people. We have worked diligently in cooperation with the international community to help organize and mobilize a political opposition that is credible -- because in the absence of a credible political opposition, it will be impossible for us to transition to a more peaceful and more representative and legitimate government structure inside of Syria.

And that’s an area where we have been involved on almost a daily basis. First, Secretary Hillary Clinton helped to spearhead the efforts that formed a coherent Syrian Opposition Council. Now you’ve got Secretary Kerry, who’s deeply involved in that effort as well. And we are providing not just advice, not just words, but we’re providing resources, training, capacity, in order for that political opposition to maintain links within Syria and to be able to provide direct services to people inside of Syria, including the kinds of relief efforts that obviously we’re seeing here in Jordan, but there are a whole bunch of people who are internally displaced inside of Syria who need help.

I think that what your question may be suggesting is why haven’t we simply gone in militarily? And I think it’s fair to say that the United States often finds itself in a situation where if it goes in militarily, then it’s criticized for going in militarily; and if doesn’t go in militarily, then people say, why aren’t you doing something militarily?

And my response at this stage is to make sure that what we do contributes to bringing an end to the bloodshed as quickly as possible. And working in a multilateral context, in an international context, because we think our experience shows that when we lead but we are also working with others -- like the Jordanians, like the Turks, like other interested parties in the region -- then the outcomes are better. When we are working with the Syrians themselves, so that this is not externally imposed, but rather something that is linked directly with the aspirations and hopes of the people inside of Syria, it will work better.

So we are going to continue to use every lever and every bit of influence that we have to effect the situation inside of Syria.

You mentioned the issue of chemical weapons. We have called for, and we know that the U.N. is now moving forward on an investigation of exactly what happened. We're monitoring the situation ourselves. I have said publicly that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a game-changer from our perspective, because once you let that situation spin out of control it's very hard to stop, and can have enormous spillover effects across the region.

And so we are going to continue to closely consult with everybody in the region and do everything we can to bring an end to the bloodshed and to allow the Syrian people to get out from under the yoke of a leader who has lost all legitimacy because he is willing to slaughter his own people. And I'm confident that Assad will go. It's not a question of if, it's when.

And so part of what we have to spend a lot of time thinking about is what's the aftermath of that, and how does that work in a way that actually serves the Syrian people -- and, by the way, serves the Syrian people from all walks of life, from all religious affiliations. Because one of the things that we know is happening in this region is that if we fail to create a model in the Arab world in which people can live side by side -- regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shia or Alawaites or Druze -- regardless of the manner in which they worship their God -- if we don't create that possibility, then these problems are going to occur again and again and again and again.

I think His Majesty understands that. I think the people of Jordan understand that. And these kinds of sectarian and tribal fault lines are part of what we have to get beyond, because they don't work in a modern world. They don't create jobs. They don't put food in the mouths of children. They don't provide an education. They don't create a thriving economy.

And that's going to be a central challenge not just in Syria, but across the region. And the United States I think has something to say about that, because part of what makes us a superpower is because we have people of every walk of life, every background, every religion, and if they've got a good idea and they're willing to work hard, they can succeed. And that's got to be something that's more consistently spoken about not just with respect to the Syria situation, but I think with respect to this enormous moment of both promise but also danger in the Arab world and in North Africa.

Julie Pace.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned the aftermath of the Assad regime. There's a lot of concern in Jordan and elsewhere that the upheaval in Syria is creating havens for extremism. How concerned are you at this point that extremists or jihadists could actually take over in Syria and perhaps be even worse than Assad? And I was also hoping you could give us some insight into how you brokered the call today between Prime Ministers Erdogan and Netanyahu. And how much of their willingness to talk do you think is actually driven by the urgency in Syria?

And, Your Majesty, you have offered Assad asylum, which he rejected. Does that offer of asylum still stand? Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I am very concerned about Syria becoming an enclave for extremism, because extremists thrive in chaos. They thrive in failed space. They thrive in power vacuums. They don't have much to offer when it comes to actually building things, but they're very good about exploiting situations that are no longer functioning. They fill that gap.

And that's why I think it's so important for us to work as an international community to help accelerate a political transition that is viable, so that a Syrian state continues to function; so that the basic institutions can be rebuilt, that they're not destroyed beyond recognition; that we are avoiding what inevitably becomes Syrian -- or sectarian divisions -- because, by definition, if you're an extremist then you don't have a lot of tolerance for people who don't share your beliefs. 

So this is part of the reason why, for the American people, we've got to recognize we have a stake here. We can't do it alone. And the outcome in Syria is not going to be ideal. Even if we execute our assistance and our coordination and our planning and our support flawlessly, the situation in Syria now is going to be difficult. And that's what happens when you have a leader who cares more about clinging to power than they do about holding their country together and looking after their people.

It's tragic. It's heartbreaking. And the sight of children and women being slaughtered that we've seen so much I think has to compel all of us to say, what more can we do? And that's a question that I'm asking as President every single day. And that's a question I know His Majesty is asking in his capacity here in Jordan.

And what I am confident about is that ultimately what the people of Syria are looking for is not replacing oppression with a new form of oppression. What they're looking for is replacing oppression with freedom and opportunity and democracy, and the capacity to live together and build together. And that's what we have to begin planning for now, understanding that it is going to be difficult.

Something has been broken in Syria, and it’s not going to be put back together perfectly, immediately, anytime soon -- even after Assad leaves. But we can begin the process of moving it in a better direction. And having a cohesive political opposition I think is critical to that.

With respect to the conversation that took place between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan, I have long said that it is in both the interest of Israel and Turkey to restore normal relations between two countries that have historically had good ties. It broke down several years ago as a consequence of the flotilla incident. For the last two years I’ve spoken to both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan about why this rupture has to be mended, that they don’t have to agree on everything in order for them to come together around a whole range of common interests and common concerns.

During my visit, it appeared that the timing was good for that conversation to take place. I discussed it with Prime Minister Netanyahu and both of us agreed that the moment was right, and, fortunately, they were able to begin the process of rebuilding normal relations between two very important countries in the region.

This is a work in process. It’s just beginning. As I said, there are obviously going to still be some significant disagreements between Turkey and Israel -- not just on the Palestinian question, but on a range of different issues. But they also have a whole range of shared interests, and they both happen to be extraordinarily strong partners and friends of ours, and so it’s in the interest of the United States that they begin this process of getting their relationship back in order. And I’m very glad to see that it’s happening.

I think the question about asylum is something that Assad has to answer himself. First, is he interested in asylum and would he be interested in coming to Jordan?

Obviously, from our point of view, as we were saying, we need an inclusive political transition as quickly as possible, so if the issue of asylum ever came up, that’s something that I think all of us would have to put our heads together and figure out whether or not, if that sort of ends the violence quickly, is something worth pursuing. So it’s a question that’s slightly beyond my pay grade at this stage, but something that I’m sure if it ever came up would be something that we discuss at the level of international community.

Q Thank you very much. Your Majesty, last year Jordan managed to break the impasse in the peace process by hosting the Amman talks, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together at the negotiating table. Now, there was an awful lot of that. Do you have anything in mind, or are you going to have any similar effort?

And, Mr. President, would you support any such effort, particularly that we know that the two sides need to be brought back to the negotiating table? Thank you.

HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH: Well, at this stage -- obviously last year, we kept Israelis and Palestinians dialogue going simply because we wanted to keep the process alive as much as we could, knowing full well that we were waiting for this opportunity. The President has, I think, finished a very successful visit to both the Israelis and Palestinians. We have been in close contact with the State Department leading up to this visit, and I think Secretary Kerry has been very right in keeping expectations low so that what I call the homework stage is still in effect.

Obviously we’re all consulting at this stage of how to build on this visit, and I believe that as we all share notes, we’ll have a better understanding over the next several weeks, what is the next step.

Jordan’s role is to be there as a facilitator and a support to both Israelis and Palestinians, to bring them closer together, so that I believe in the next several weeks to the next several months we’ll have the homework or the framework that allows both sides to come together and move forward.

So Jordan obviously will welcome hosting Israelis and Palestinians together if that’s what they want. And we always have been in a support mode for both sides. And as I said earlier, we see a window of opportunity, and I believe the statements that the President has made to the Israeli and to the Palestinian is an opportunity to regalvanize the effort, and one that we will stand by in support mode as we compare notes of the President’s visit to the two countries.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think His Majesty described what I’ve tried to accomplish on this trip very well. This is a trip to make sure I’m doing my homework. We all recognize how vital it could be to see a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We set expectations low precisely because there’s been a lot of talk over decades but it hasn’t produced the results that everybody wants to see.

And so my approach here has been let me listen to the parties first; let me find out exactly what the roadblocks are for progress; let me discuss with them ways that we might move those roadblocks out of the way in order to achieve a concrete result.

And I’ve also been modest because, frankly, peace will not be achieved unless ultimately the parties themselves want peace.
I think all of us in the international community share this frustration -- why can’t we get this problem solved? I think the Israeli people are frustrated that they feel this problem is not solved. They don’t enjoy the isolation that has resulted from this conflict. I think the Palestinian people certainly feel that frustration.

As I mentioned in my speech yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with young people who are growing up unable to do the basic things that a free people should expect they should be able to do -- simple things like travel, or enjoying the kinds of privacy in their own homes that so many of us take for granted. And these are children, these are young people -- these are young men and women who, as I described yesterday, aren't very different from my daughters, and they deserve the same opportunities. They deserve this cloud to be lifted from their lives -- because they can achieve and they have enormous potential, and I don't want them living up under a sense of constricted possibility.

I also don't want the Israeli people continually looking over their shoulder, thinking that at any point their house may be hit by a rocket, or a bus may be blown up. And so part of the tragedy of the situation has been that neither side is getting exactly what they want, but it's not been possible to break out of old patterns and a difficult history.

So my hope and expectation is that, as a consequence of us doing our homework, we can explore with the parties a mechanism for them to sit back down, to get rid of some of the old assumptions, to think in new ways and to get this done. And I think if it gets done in a timely way, then the Israeli people will be safer and the Palestinian people will be freer. And children on both sides will have a better life. And as a consequence, the region as a whole will be strengthened and the world will be safer.

I can't guarantee that that's going to happen. What I can guarantee is we'll make the effort. What I can guarantee is that Secretary Kerry is going to be spending a good deal of time in discussions with the parties. What I can assure you is, is that nobody feels a greater interest in us achieving this than His Majesty. And so we're just going to keep on plugging away.

The one thing I did say I think to both sides is the window of opportunity still exists but it's getting more and more difficult. The mistrust is building instead of ebbing. The logistics of providing security for Israel get more difficult with new technologies. And the logistics of creating a contiguous and functioning Palestinian state become more difficult with settlements. And so both sides have to begin to think about their long-term strategic interests instead of worrying about can I gain a short-term tactical advantage here or there, and say to themselves, what's the big picture and how do we get this done?

And that's ultimately what I believe both peoples want -- which is why I think -- I think it was very interesting that in my speech in Jerusalem, some of the strongest applause came when I addressed the Israeli people and I said, you have to think about these Palestinian children like your own children. It tapped into something that they understood inherently. And that gives me hope. I think that shows there's possibility there. But it's hard. And what I also said was that ultimately people have to help provide the structures for leaders to take some very difficult risks.

So that's why I wanted to speak directly to the Israeli people and to the Palestinian people, so that they help empower their leadership to make some very difficult decisions in order to achieve a compromise where neither side is going to get a hundred percent of what they want. So we'll see if we can make it happen.

Jon Karl.

Q Thank you, Mr. President, King Abdullah.

Mr. President, you have said repeatedly on this trip and before that all options are on the table to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, including military action. Yesterday, the Supreme Leader of Iran came out and said that if any action is taken against his country, he will raze the cities in Israel of Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground. So my question to you is are you prepared to deal with the retaliation, the fallout that would come after a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities?

And to King Abdullah, if I can ask what you think would happen here -- what would be the aftermath of a military strike, whether taken by the United States or by Israel against Iran? What is a bigger threat to stability in this region -- Iran with nuclear weapons, or another war in this region?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, Jon, I'm not going to engage in a whole bunch of hypotheticals. Because what I've said from the moment I came into office was that the best resolution of this situation is through diplomacy, and I continue to believe that.

We have organized the international community around a sanctions regime that is having an impact on Iran -- not because we forced other countries to do it; because they recognize that if you trigger a nuclear arms race in this region, as volatile as it is, if you have the prospect of nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorists and extremists, that it's not just Israel that's threatened, it's a whole range of people that could be threatened.

We're talking right now about the possibility of Syria using chemical weapons. What would be the conversation if Syria possessed nuclear weapons?

So this is not just a problem for Israel. It's not just a problem for the United States. It's a regional and worldwide problem. And, by the way, we have been consistent in saying that nonproliferation is a problem around the globe, not just with respect to Iran. The fact of the matter is, is that Iran has not been able to establish credibly with the international community that, in fact, it is simply pursuing peaceful nuclear power. There's a reason why it's subject to all these resolutions and violations identified by the United Nations. That's not something we made up.

There are a lot of other countries who have the technical capacity, but for some reason, they are able to get right with the international community. Iran has not been able to do so.

Now, if in fact what the Supreme Leader has said is the case, which is that developing a nuclear weapon would be un-Islamic and that Iran has no interest in developing nuclear weapons, then there should be a practical, verifiable way to assure the international community that it’s not doing so. And this problem will be solved -- to the benefit of the region and to the benefit of the Iranian people.

The Iranian people are celebrating Nowruz, their most important holiday. And every year I deliver a Nowruz message. And I remind the people of Iran that they are a great civilization; they have an extraordinary history; they have unbelievable talent -- they should be fully integrated then to the international community, where they can thrive and build businesses and expand commerce. And there should be exchanges and travel and interactions with the Iranian people and everyone else, including the United States. That should be the vision -- not threats to raze Israeli cities to the ground.

Part of the frustration that I think we all feel sometimes is that it seems as if people spend all their time organizing around how they can gain advantage over other people, or inflict violence on other people, or isolate other people, instead of trying to figure out how do we solve problems. This is a solvable problem -- if, in fact, Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

And so we’re going to continue to apply the pressure that we have in a nonmilitary way to try to resolve the problem. We will continue to try to pursue diplomatic solutions to the situation.
But, yes, I have said as President of the United States that I will maintain every option that’s available to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon because I think the consequences for the region and for the world would be extraordinarily dangerous.

My hope and expectation is, is that, among a menu of options, the option that involves negotiations, discussions, compromise, and resolution of the problem is the one that’s exercised. But as President of the United States, I would never take any option off the table.

HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH: There’s very little that I would like to add to what the President said. I think, looking from the Jordanian point of view and the challenges that Jordan faces as we look around the region, the challenges of what the Israelis and the Palestinians that we faced in 2012, the instability as you’re seeing in Syria, we have the concerns as what’s happening in Iraq -- any military action at the moment, whether Israeli or Iranian, to me at this stage is Pandora’s box, because nobody can guarantee what the outcome will be.

So hopefully there is another way of resolving this problem. At a time with so much instability in the Middle East, we just don’t need another thing on our shoulders.

Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you to the people of Jordan.

9:02 P.M. EEST

House Democratic Budget Focuses On Infrastructure And Job Creation, Reduces Deficit By $1.7 Trillion

 20 days after automatic sequestration cuts went into effect, Congress is still trying to reconcile House Republicans’ and Senate Democrats’ budget proposals. On Wednesday, House Democrats introduced their own vision for the federal budget, promising to balance the budget by 2040 without the draconian spending cuts proposed by the GOP, while offering double the stimulus funding in the Senate Democratic plan.
The House Democrats’ budget, authored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), includes $1.2 trillion in revenues and reduces the deficit by $1.7 trillion, slightly less than the Senate’s goal of $1.85 trillion. Other highlights include:
$200 billion in stimulus. Like the Senate budget, House Democrats set aside $50 billion for urgent infrastructure repairs, but sets aside an additional $10 billion to establish an infrastructure bank. Borrowing from President Obama’s blocked American Jobs Act, the House budget surpasses the Senate’s on funding to boost employment for teachers, police officers, firefighters, and veterans. $19 billion is also set aside as a tax credit for businesses that increase their payroll.
A focus on job growth. The Century Foundation estimates Van Hollen’s budget would boost GDP growth by .4 percent and add roughly 450,000 jobs more than under current policy in 2013, while cancelling sequestration would add even more. The House GOP budget, in turn, would keep sequestration in place, eliminating 750,000 jobs in 2013 and more than 2 million in 2014. Compared to the House GOP budget, Van Hollen’s budget would boost GDP 1.8 percent and add more than 2.1 million jobs by 2014.
Protection for the safety net. While the Republicans’ plan would end the guaranteed Medicare benefit, privatize health insurance for seniors and turn Medicaid into a block grant program run by the states, the House Democrats affirms protections for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Elimination of tax breaks for millionaires. Van Hollen’s budget permanently extends Bush tax cuts for the middle class while generating $1 trillion in new revenue by ending tax cuts and closing loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans. It also includes a “Buffet Rule” to ensure millionaires do not pay lower tax rates than the middle class.
The House Republicans’ plan purports to balance the budget in 10 years through severe spending cuts, though they would have to raise taxes on the middle class in order to pay for the tax cuts for millionaires without adding to the deficit.
The Democratic budget still cuts $80 billion from government programs. As multiple studies have noted, the past 3 budget deals have been dramatically skewed towards spending cuts, to the extent that the next deal should be 90 percent comprised of new tax revenues in order to round out a balanced deficit reduction plan.

How A Path To Citizenship For Undocumented Immigrants Would Boost The American Economy

As Congress continues to piece together comprehensive immigration reform legislation, a new study from the Center for American Progress asserts that legal status and a path to citizenship for America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants would provide substantial boosts to the nation’s economy in the immediate future.
The study from Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford examined three immigration reform scenarios: immediate legal status and citizenship, immediate legal status and a path to citizenship within five years, and legal status but no path to citizenship. The first scenario, immediate citizenship, would provide the largest economic boost, adding $1.4 trillion to economic growth, a $791 billion increase to Americans’ personal incomes, and 203,000 jobs over the next decade. It would also boost incomes of undocumented workers by $691 billion over the next decade, adding $184 billion in tax revenues to state and federal coffers.
Even under the second scenario — immediate legal status and a path to citizenship within five years — the benefits would be large, and though there are still benefits to reform without a path to citizenship, they are significantly smaller than the benefits from the other scenarios:

“These immigration reform scenarios illustrate that unauthorized immigrants are currently earning far less than their potential, paying much less in taxes, and contributing significantly less to the U.S. economy than they potentially could,” Lynch and Oakford wrote in the study. But the study also makes it clear that the benefits of immigration reform and a path to citizenship aren’t restricted to undocumented immigrants — they extend to American workers as well.
Other studies have shown that immigration reform would have positive effects on jobs and economic growth, wages for both immigrants and American workers alike, the creation of new businesses, and growth for state economies.

President Obama Holds a Press Conference with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority

March 21, 2013 | 31:48 | Public Domain
President Obama and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority hold a press conference in Ramallah, West Bank.

How Economic Growth Can Save The Planet

Arguments over the feasibility and morality of economic growth as a continuing societal goal typically pit left wing critics of capitalism, traditionalist conservatives, and strands of the environmental movement against mainstream liberals and those on the libertarian right.
There are two primary criticisms of growth from the left-traditionalist camp.  One, is an ecological argument about “the limits to growth,” dating back to 1972 and start of the modern environmental movement, which argues that we cannot sustain the type of consumer capitalism we’ve embarked on over the past 40 years without global “overshoot” that will eventually lead to environmental catastrophe, resource depletion, pollution, and scarcity.  A second line of attack is a moral argument that contemporary growth-oriented capitalism inevitably exacerbates poverty and inequality, undermines democracy, and sacrifices traditional values, families, and communities to the amoral logic of markets.
The “limits to growth” folks usually get the short end of the stick in these discussions and are too often painted as reactionaries, radicals, or Luddites.  But they raise a series of important points about the nature of modern capitalism and liberal democracy that progressives should consider.  As Gus Speth outlines in his beyond growth manifesto, inequality is at record levels within our own country and in relation to others.  Global climate change continues unabated despite a zillion conferences and plans to combat it.  Corporations and the wealthy exert too much control over our democratic governments.  People buy too much stuff and we produce too much waste.  We spend too much on the military and too little on the social needs of our own people.  These are uncomfortable trends for the proponents of unfettered growth to acknowledge.
Pro-growth liberals push back that despite its drawbacks, a steadily expanding economy is critical to achieving the type of society progressives hold dear.  Robert Reich and Benjamin Friedman argue that growth leads to a whole host of desired outcomes from improved education and health care to rising tolerance and respect for individual rights.   As Friedman writes, “Economic growth—meaning a rising standard of living for the clear majority of citizens—more often than not fosters greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy.”  These are clearly important political and social outcomes of economic growth that post-growth proponents tend to downplay.
Can these two perspectives be reconciled?  Yes, if we structure the right kind of growth, which is essentially a political decision.  Here’s Reich:
Growth is different from consumerism. Growth is really about the capacity of a nation to produce everything that’s wanted and needed by its inhabitants. That includes better stewardship of the environment as well as improved public health and better schools. (The Gross Domestic Product is a crude way of gauging this but it’s a guide. Nations with high and growing GDPs have more overall capacity; those with low or slowing GDPs have less.)

Poorer countries tend to be more polluted than richer ones because they don’t have the capacity both to keep their people fed and clothed and also to keep their land, air and water clean. Infant mortality is higher and life spans shorter because they don’t have enough to immunize against diseases, prevent them from spreading, and cure the sick.
In their quest for resources rich nations (and corporations) have too often devastated poor ones – destroying their forests, eroding their land, and fouling their water. This is intolerable, but it isn’t an indictment of growth itself. Growth doesn’t depend on plunder. Rich nations have the capacity to extract resources responsibly. That they don’t is a measure of their irresponsibility and the weakness of international law.
How a nation chooses to use its productive capacity – how it defines its needs and wants — is a different matter. As China becomes a richer nation it can devote more of its capacity to its environment and to its own consumers, for example.
The United States has the largest capacity in the world. But relative to other rich nations it chooses to devote a larger proportion of that capacity to consumer goods, health care, and the military. And it uses comparatively less to support people who are unemployed or destitute, pay for non-carbon fuels, keep people healthy, and provide aid to the rest of the world. Slower growth will mean even more competition among these goals.
If ultimately we need growth in the wider sense that Reich defines – one that is socially and ecologically conscious — what might this look like going forward?  Enter the pro-growth green movement.
Ralf Fücks, President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and a member of the German Green Party, has a new book out (unpublished in the U.S. at this point) entitled, Smart Growth: The Green Revolution, which attempts to combine the wisdom of the ecological and pro-growth movements into a new framework for understanding capitalism and democracy.
In the English version of the book’s introductory chapter, Fücks challenges both the beyond-growth and pro-growth camps to recognize the limits of each approach.  People “would soon discover that the ‘post-growth society’ was no carefree idyll but rather a showplace of social drama and competition for the allocation of resources.  Greece is experiencing such a nightmare at this very moment.  However, the notion that we could once again indulge in the resource-devouring, energy-intensive sort of growth of the twentieth century is equally unrealistic.”    What is the alternative?
We are talking about entering a new age of ecology that adheres to the idea of progress, yet narrates it in a new key: as the history of the co-evolution of humankind and nature, with a potential for development that we have barely begun to tap. The present crisis does not represent the apocalypse of technological-scientific civilization, but rather the transition from an age where industry was powered by fossil fuels to one whose ecological method of production is already appearing in its outlines upon the horizon.  Its power plant is the sun.  A Europe-wide network of renewable energies is delivering climate-friendly electricity and thermal energy.  Buildings are becoming miniature power stations that produce more energy than they consume.  We circulate through cities using a smooth combination of public transportation, bicycles, and electric autos that can be rented out and returned again…
The miniaturization of technology reduces the consumption of materials.  Computers, machines and motors are becoming smaller, lighter and more productive…Ultra-filtration stations transform waste water into drinking water.  Near cities agro industrial centers arise, combining agriculture, gardening, animal husbandry and processing, and energy production in closed circuits.  A segment of food production is returning to cities.  Vegetables, fruits and mushrooms are being cultivated in all seasons of the year in old factories, vertical greenhouses and roof gardens.  Industrial produced carbon dioxide is being used in the operation of greenhouses and the cultivation of algae…Artificial photosynthesis makes possible the transformation of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into synthetic fuels…Economy enters into a metabolic relationship with nature.  The earth is no static element but rather a dynamic system full of yet undiscovered possibilities.  Intelligent growth means growth with nature.
Beyond mere wishful thinking and abstraction, Reich and the pro-growth greens are pointing the way towards a potential fusion of economic needs and progressive values.   The details still need to be fleshed out.  But the framework is worth considering.  With the right political decisions and the proper alignment of technology with nature, economic growth can once again enable progress and the advance of liberal values.


Boehner Pledges To Keep Country In Perpetual Crisis: Intends To Take Debt Ceiling Hostage Again

Right after the House of Representatives approved a Senate bill to avert a government shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) set the stage for another down-to-the-wire crisis that will threaten the nation’s economic growth. At his weekly press conference, Boehner indicated that Republicans would again demand spending cuts in exchange for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, which it is set to hit in May.
Boehner said Republicans would only raise the debt ceiling if they got an equal amount of spending cuts, the Huffington Post reports:
Dollar for dollar is the plan,” Boehner told reporters, adding that there have been no major talks on the debt limit at this point.
“The president has been clear that he’s not going to address our entitlement crisis unless we’re willing to raise taxes. I think the tax issue has been resolved,” said Boehner. “So at this point then, I don’t know how we’re going to go forward.”
Boehner’s House of Representatives has created an atmosphere of perpetual crisis in Washington since the GOP took control in 2011. The GOP took the government to the brink of shutdown early in 2011 before nearly forcing a default by demanding spending cuts in exchange for a debt ceiling increase that summer. That fight set up sequestration, the automatic budget cuts that threatened to derail the economy at the beginning of 2013 before a last minute deal pushed them back to the beginning of March. Republicans failed to extract more cuts when the debt ceiling was temporarily extended in January, but Boehner is now seeking to make sure cuts happen in May — even though the U.S. has already cut more than $2 trillion in spending over the last three years.
Those cuts have hammered the economic recovery, as has the culture of crises Boehner and the GOP have created. The last debt ceiling fight increased borrowing costs and slowed down economic growth, but despite evidence that both the GOP’s fights and their preferred policies are harming the economy, Boehner insists on repeating the same mistakes. Raising the debt ceiling was never an issue for Boehner when George W. Bush was president, but the recent fights have proven so harmful that top policymakers like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are now calling for the permanent abolition of the debt limit.

On Third Day of Middle East Trip, President Obama Visits Jewish and Christian Landmarks

Colleen Curtis
March 22, 2013
07:12 PM EDT

President Barack Obama pauses after adjusting a wreath placed in the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Standing behind the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; and Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Obama began the third day of his historic visit to the Middle East with a visit to Mount Herzl, Israel's national cemetery, where he honored the significant contributions of two Jewish heroes, Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The President laid a stone from the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington on Mr. Rabin’s grave, highlighting the slain leader’s work to bring peace to the region. 

 President Obama Speaks at Yad Vashem

Next up was a tour of Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Complex, where President Obama honored the memory of Holocaust victims by laying a wreath and rekindling the eternal flame in the Hall of Remembrance. He also joined Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu on a tour that included the Hall of Names, a circular chamber that houses the original testimony documenting every Holocaust victim ever identified, and the art museum where the President heard the story of Charlotte Salomon, a Holocaust victim who was murdered in 1944 in Auschwitz, but whose memory is preserved in the autobiographical artwork she painted while in hiding from the Nazis. The President ended the poignant visit with a walk through the Children’s Memorial, which memorializes the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished during the Holocaust with candles reflected in a series of mirrors.

Speaking in the Hall of Children, President Obama remarked that while surrounded by evidence of man’s capacity for evil, "we also are reminded of man’s capacity for good."

For here we learn that we are never powerless. In our lives we always have choices. To succumb to our worst instincts or to summon the better angels of our nature. To be indifferent to suffering to wherever it may be, whoever it may be visited upon, or to display the empathy that is at the core of our humanity. We have the choice to acquiesce to evil or make real our solemn vow -- “never again.” We have the choice to ignore what happens to others, or to act on behalf of others and to continually examine in ourselves whatever dark places there may be that might lead to such actions or inactions. This is our obligation -- not simply to bear witness, but to act.

For us, in our time, this means confronting bigotry and hatred in all of its forms, racism, especially anti-Semitism. None of that has a place in the civilized world -- not in the classrooms of children; not in the corridors of power. And let us never forget the link between the two. For our sons and daughters are not born to hate, they are taught to hate. So let us fill their young hearts with the same understanding and compassion that we hope others have for them.

President Barack Obama visits the Hall of Names during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Standing with the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate; and Israeli President Shimon Peres. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Obama then joined Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is built on the spot where Jesus is said to have been born. The President also stopped by the Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine, which adjoins the Church of the Nativity, where he met with Palestinian children, as well as religious leaders and local officials.

In the afternoon, President Obama headed to Jordan, the final stop on the first foreign trip of his second term. He was greeted at Al-Hummar Palace in Amman by King Abdullah II and his son, Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, and participated in an official welcoming ceremony. The President and the King then held a bilateral meeting where they discussed several issues of importance to both countries, including the ongoing turmoil in Syria, and the 460,000 citizens of that country who have fled to Jordan seeking safety.

In a joint press conference that followed, King Abdullah II said the unrest in the country that borders his "will have disastrous consequences on the region for generations to come," if not resolved. He highlighted the humanitarian crisis that has resulted, with one refugee camp growing so large it is now the fifth largest city in Jordan, and thanked the U.S. for our help in shouldering the enormous responsibility.

President Obama told reporters that he had come to Jordan to build on the very strong foundation that already exists between our two countries and to deepen the already extraordinary cooperation. He also praised the Jordanian people -- and their King -- for their compassion during an extraordinarily difficult time for their neighbors. "His Majesty was the first Arab leader to publicly call on Assad to step down because of the horrific violence that was being inflicted on the Syrian people. Jordan has played a leading role in trying to begin a political transition toward a new government. We're working together to strengthen a credible Syrian opposition."

The President also reiterated the U.S.'s commitment to the security of Jordan, which is backed by our strong alliance. 

President Barack Obama and King Abdullah II stand at the dais as the honor guard is dismissed during the official arrival ceremony at Al-Hummar Palace in Amman, Jordan, March 22, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Two teen suspects arrested in shooting death of Georgia baby

Terry Dickson / The Morning News via AP
Authorities investigate the scene of shooting in Brunswick, Ga., on Thursday.
Two teenage suspects were arrested in a small coastal Georgia city a day after a baby was killed and his mom shot, authorities said Friday.
The mother, Sherry West, told FOX affiliate WAWS-TV that she was pushing her 13-month-old son, Antonio, in his stroller in Brunswick, Ga., Thursday morning, when two boys – described as about 10 and 15 years old – came up, demanded money and shot them.

Brunswick police announced Friday afternoon that they had arrested a 17-year-old and a 14-year-old, and that they were charging them with murder. The arrests came after SWAT teams had gone door to door, searching for clues, and police had checked local school attendance and absentee lists to see if there were any students who hadn't been at school that fit the description of the suspects.

PICTURES: Baby Killed, Mother Shot

West told WAWS-TV that the older boy pointed a handgun at her during the encounter Thursday.
"He said, 'I'm gonna kill you if you don't give me your money,' and I said, 'I swear I don't have any,'" she told WAWS-TV of the encounter.
She said they wouldn't accept no for an answer.
"He says, 'Well, I'm gonna kill your baby,'" she told WAWS-TV, crying. "I put my arms over my baby and he shoves me. And then he shot my baby right in the head."

Glynn County Police Department
De'Marquise Kareem Elkins, 17.
West said she began CPR on her baby's lifeless body while wondering to herself how a couple of boys could get their hands on a real gun. "But when I saw him shoot my baby and he died, I knew it was real," said West.
West was shot in the leg, according to local reports. Brunswick police spokesman Todd Rhodes confirmed she received a non-life-threatening gunshot wound from a handgun.
Brunswick police identified the 17-year-old suspect as De'Marquise Kareem Elkins. The 14-year-old's identity, since he is a juvenile, was not made public; under Georgia law, 17 is considered an adult.
West was the only eyewitness to the crime, Rhodes said. Residents in the area reported hearing gunshots, but didn't see anything, he said.
Brunswick, Georgia Police Chief Tobe Green says authorities have arrested two teenagers suspected in the shooting death of a baby in a stroller and the wounding of the baby's mother.

"We're not leaving any stone unturned," he said earlier in the day.
In a news conference Friday afternoon, Brunswick police chief Tobe Brown said, "We're still following leads from our witnesses. We're still collecting evidence. ... We're currently serving search warrants at three locations within the city."
Police hadn't located a weapon yet.
 The baby's father, Louis Santiago, said to WAWS-TV, "Why? Why my little one? You know? You feel they could have just taken the pocketbook and go."
Brunswick is about 80 miles south of Savannah.


Congress Is Strong-Arming The Postal Service Into Bankruptcy Even Faster

On Thursday, Congress voted against allowing the U.S. Postal Service to cut its delivery down to five days a week, forcing the organization to keep delivering mail on Saturdays. This will drive the USPS into looming bankruptcy — already foisted upon the USPS by Congress itself — even faster.
In 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, mandating that the USPS front the money for 75 years of employee pensions — a requirement no other public or private institution faces.
In trying to scrape up money for the pensions of kids who haven’t even graduated high school yet, the USPS has spiraled into near-bankruptcy. Without the pension requirement, a July 2012 analysis showed, the USPS would have a $1.5 billion surplus. Instead, it’s billions of dollars in the red.
Dropping Saturday delivery was supposed to be its way of trying to fight these congressionally-imposed deficits. But yesterday, Congress rejected the five-day proposal, roundly agreeing that the USPS must keep its service at six days a week, even though it can hardly afford to do so.
Now, the USPS is looking for a workaround to see if it can cut back on first-class mail, magazine, and direct mail delivery while still meeting Congress’s six-day mandate.
Though the Postal Service is an independent agency, a legal opinion by the Government Accountability Office found that it needs Congressional approval to change its budget or delivery schedule.
Congress has apparently not considered that postal access matters, particularly to rural Americans. Members of Congress seem content to let the USPS flounder, despite the fact that it would take just one simple step to fix the USPS’s budget problems: repealing the pension requirement. It doesn’t look like Congress will let that happen any time soon.


For Second Straight Year, Florida Senate Committee Approves Bill To Speed Up Foreclosure Process

Florida’s Senate Banking and Insurance Committee this week approved legislation that would speed up the state’s foreclosure process, a move that would remove some protections for homeowners and could increase the likelihood of bank fraud. The committee, which passed the bill 8-2, passed similar legislation in 2012 that did not advance farther.
The bill is an effort to clear Florida’s backlog of foreclosures that piled up as a result of the financial crisis, but as we pointed out when it was introduced in February, it is likely to have unintended consequences that make it easier for banks to deceive homeowners or process unlawful foreclosures. Banks’ past efforts to speed up the process led to fraudulent techniques like robo-signing, and banks foreclosed on homes they didn’t own, homeowners that were seeking to modify their loans, or because of minor clerical errors the banks themselves had made.
While Florida does have a lengthy backlog of foreclosures, its process is not atypically long. The average Florida foreclosure takes more than 600 days to process, about the same length of time it takes the average home nationally to enter foreclosure.
Consumer advocates have pointed out many problems with the foreclosure bill. In addition to potentially inviting fraud, the bill would remove homeowners’ right to reclaim their property after an improper foreclosure. Instead, they would only be eligible for compensation.

Why Progressives Need To Talk About Economic Mobility If They Want To Fix Inequality

The conservative trickle-down approach to the economy assumes that maximizing rewards for those at the top is the path to both growth and prosperity for the society as a whole.  If inequality rises, that does not matter, runs the conservative argument, because absolute levels of prosperity will rise for everyone even if the top gains more.
The progressive approach to the economy is radically different.  This approach posits, based on a mass of accumulating evidence, that inequality is not a benign byproduct of growth, but rather a toxic barrier to both middle class prosperity and strong growth in general.  In other words, high levels of inequality interfere with the both the quality and quantity of growth experienced by a society.  Hence the idea that an economic agenda  must concentrate on lifting up the middle class to generate both broadly-shared prosperity and fast growth.  The two goals are inextricably linked and one cannot be attained without the other.
Of course, the progressive agenda may be the correct one, but that does not mean it can be easily sold to the public and politicians.  It would require a serious reorientation of national priorities and considerable investments in areas like education and infrastructure–spending that is likely to meet considerable resistance in the current environment.  Therefore, the question of how to frame the agenda in the political marketplace is key.
One obvious approach is to frame the agenda directly as a means of reducing inequality.  Call this the redistributionist approach.  This approach is not without merit.  Start with awareness of and views about economic inequality.
There is no doubt Americans are aware of rising inequality.  In the Pew Research Center’s 2012 American Values survey, respondents were asked if they agreed that today the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. About three-quarters (76 percent) agreed, while just 23 percent disagreed.  And the public believes it’s not just the poor who are losing ground to the rich—it’s the middle class as well. In the same survey three-quarters (76 percent) also say the gap between the standards of living of the middle class and the rich grew over the last decade, compared to just 16 percent who think it narrowed.
No wonder that a poll from October 2011 conducted by Pulse Opinion Research for The Hill found that two in three Americans believe that the middle class is now shrinking. And in a Democracy Corps post-2010 election survey, the public endorsed the idea that America is no longer a country with a rising middle class by 57-36.  Finally, an October, 2007 poll conducted by political scientists Benjamin Page and Lawrence Jacobs for their book, Class War: What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality, found 81 percent of the public saying that the gap in wealth between wealthy Americans and the middle class has grown over the last 25 years, compared to just 10 percent who said it has remained the same and 8 percent who said it had gotten smaller.

Of course high awareness of inequality does not necessarily mean that Americans disapprove of it.  But further data show that Americans’ high awareness of inequality is indeed matched by high levels of disapproval.  For example, in a Pew poll in December, 2011, 61% said our economy unfairly favors wealthy Americans, while only 36% thought the system was “generally fair.”  And in an ABC News/The Washington Post poll from January of this year, 55% of Americans said that economic unfairness that favors the wealthy is a bigger problem than overregulation by the government that hurts economic growth. Only 35% of respondents believed the latter was the bigger problem.
Moreover, in an October, 2011 nationwide survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the public expressed the following views:
  • 81 percent of those surveyed agreed that “Regular people work harder and harder for less and less, while Wall Street CEOs enjoy bigger bonuses than ever,”
  • 75 percent agreed that “Our economy works for Wall Street CEOs but not for the middle class. America isn’t supposed to only work for the top 1 percent”
  • 72 percent agreed that “right now, 99 percent of Americans only see the rich getting richer and everyone else getting crushed. And they’re right.”
In earlier data from the Page/Jacobs survey, 72 percent agreed that differences in income in America are too large, compared to only 27 percent who disagreed.  And 59 percent disagreed that large differences in income are necessary for America’s prosperity.  In an October 2008 Gallup poll, 58 percent thought money and wealth should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people, compared to 37 percent who thought it was fairly distributed.
None of these survey findings are idiosyncratic.  Careful academic reviews of public opinion on inequality over time by sociologists Lane Kenworthy and Leslie McCall indicate that Americans have typically been aware of inequality, sensitive to its increase over time and generally disapprove of the levels it has reached on our society.
So, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the public is both aware of rising inequality and disapproves of it.  Naturally enough, given these sentiments, the public would also like to see something done about this problem.  In a November 2011 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute, 60 percent agreed that “our society would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal.” And 63 percent believed that “we need to dramatically reduce inequalities between rich and poor, whites and people of color and men and women.”
But it does not follow from all this–awareness, disapproval and the felt need for action–that the public would necessarily be happiest with a direct attack on inequality as implied by the redistributionist frame.  On the contrary, in the February, 2009 Pew economic mobility survey, by an overwhelming 71-21 margin, respondents though it was more important to ensure everyone has a fair chance of improving their economic standing than to reduce inequality in America.
That preference for economic mobility over direct mitigation of inequality is also suggested by results of another question in the same survey.  By 71-27, Americans agreed that greater economic inequality means that it is more difficult for those at the bottom of the ladder to move up the ladder.  That is what Americans object to most vigorously about economic inequality: that it makes economic mobility more difficult.  In other words, for most Americans what we have is not an inequality crisis but a mobility crisis.  This is confirmed by results of a recent series of focus groups on inequality conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.  Participants tended not to connect their economic difficulties with wealth and income inequality but bemoaned, more than anything else, the rising cost of middle class expenses like housing, transportation, medical care and college relative to lagging wages and salaries.  This middle class squeeze, which prevents them from moving ahead in life, is what primarily concerns them.
The mobility crisis touches something very, very important to Americans.  Americans retain a deep faith in their personal ability to get ahead even in adverse circumstances, provided they have a fair opportunity to do so.  Here are some results from a survey I helped conduct for the Economic Policy Institute in March, 2006.  That poll found that 69% thought they had already attained the American Dream or would attain it in their lifetimes (note: this figure was actually higher–75%–in a CAP poll conducted in February, 2009 after the financial crisis had hit). And while 60% rated themselves between poor and middle class now on a 10 point economic scale (1-5), 59% said they would be between middle class and wealthy (6 to 10) within 10 years. Finally, while 80% described themselves as working class, middle class, or lower class today, 44% believed it was very or somewhat likely that they would become wealthy in the future.
This personal optimism can and does co-exist with negative views about the overall state of the economy.  In the EPI poll, respondents were asked whether economic uncertainty and inequality or success in achieving the American Dream characterizes the economy today.   Here is the choice posed by the question:
  • Most people today face increasing uncertainty about employment, with stagnant incomes, paying more for health care, taxes, and retirement, while those at the top have booming incomes and lower taxes
  • Our economy faces ups and downs, but most people can expect to better themselves, see rising incomes, find good jobs and provide economic security for their families. The American dream is very much alive.
By 2:1 (64%-32%), respondents selected the first statement about increasing uncertainty as coming closer to their views. But of that group that said that increasing uncertainty, rather than achieving the American Dream, characterized the economy, an amazing 63% nevertheless thought that they themselves would achieve the Dream.
This personal optimism and aspirational outlook is broadly shared across social groups. For example, 69% of the white working class and 74 % of the white middle class believed they have reached or will reach the American Dream, as did 67% of women, 72% of men, 66% of blacks, and 74% of Hispanics (blacks and Hispanics were less likely than whites to believe they had already attained the Dream, but made up for it by being more likely to believe they will attain it in the future).
This aspirational outlook helps explain a stunning finding from the Page/Jacobs survey.  A whopping 97 percent agreed (including 85 percent who strongly agreed) that everyone in America should have equal opportunities to get ahead.  This is as close to a consensual viewpoint as you find in American public opinion, suggesting the power of a mobility, rather than redistributionist, frame for the progressive economic agenda.
The mobility frame has a strong connection in the public mind to the need for government action. In the 2011 Pew economic mobility survey, an overwhelming 83 percent said they wanted the government to either provide opportunities for the poor and middle class to improve their economic situation or prevent them from falling behind or both.  In the same survey, education, a central part of the progressive economic agenda, loomed especially large as a way the government should  help provide those opportunities.  Ensuring all children get a quality education was rated the highest among options to help people get ahead (88 percent rated it as one of the most important/very important).  And improving the quality of elementary and secondary education and making college more affordable were two of the top four options for preventing downward mobility (84 and 80 percent, respectively, one of the most effective/very effective).
Other options that rated highly in this or the 2009 Pew economic mobility survey included promoting job creation, providing basic needs to the very poor, reducing the costs of health care, helping small businesses and business owners, more job training programs and education for adult workers, making it easier to save for retirement and early childhood learning programs.  All these mobility-promoting steps are central, of course, to the progressive economic agenda.
In conclusion, the mobility frame lends itself to an “aspirational populism” that makes explicit the argument that current levels of inequality are not just unfair but directly interfere with mobility and economic growth.  Not only is there a growing body of economic evidence for the argument but it accords well with the common sense of voters.  And perhaps the common sense of an increasing number of politicians.
As the President himself has remarked (April, 2012 speech in Florida):
In this country, prosperity has never trickled down from the wealthy few. Prosperity has always come from the bottom up, from a strong and growing middle class. That’s how a generation who went to college on the GI Bill — including my grandfather — helped build the most prosperous economy that the world has ever known. That’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made a point to pay his workers enough money so that they could buy the cars that they were building. Because he understood, look, there’s no point in me having all this and then nobody can buy my cars. I’ve got to pay my workers enough so that they buy the cars, and that in turn creates more business and more prosperity for everybody.
That about says it all.

North Dakota Votes To Ban All Abortions By Defining Life At Conception

An earlier version of this story asserted that this legislation would head to the governor’s desk. It will actually head to the voters for consideration.
North Dakota lawmakers voted on Friday afternoon to pass a “personhood” abortion ban, which would endow fertilized eggs with all the rights of U.S. citizens and effectively outlaw abortion. The measure, which passed the Senate last month, passed the House by a 57-35 vote and now heads to a ballot vote, likely in the next November election.
A personhood ban could have far-reaching consequences even beyond abortion care, since it will charge doctors who damage embryos with criminal negligence. Doctors in the state say it will also prevent them from performing in vitro fertilization, and some medical professionals have vowed to leave the state if it is signed into law.
Personhood measures are so extreme that some pro-life Republicans in the state have come out against them, planning to join a pro-choice rally in the state capital on Monday to oppose the far-right abortion restriction. “We have stepped over the line,” Republican state Rep. Kathy Hawken (R-Fargo) said of the recent push to pass personhood. “North Dakota hasn’t even passed a primary seatbelt law, but we have the most invasive attack on women’s health anywhere.”
Personhood advocates have pushed their agenda in states throughout the country over the past several years, but their measures have so far been unable to advance. Anti-choice lawmakers in North Dakota, who have already pushed through a stringent six-week abortion ban, were actually considering two different types of personhood legislation — one to immediately amend the state’s constitution to redefine life as beginning at conception, and one to put a personhood amendment on the ballot. The House voted down the first and passed the second.