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PBS NewsHour

Obama closes 2014 with remarks on Cuba, North Korea

THAT'S A WRAP monitor OBAMA

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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama said today that the United States would respond proportionally and at time of its choosing to the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The FBI confirmed this morning that North Korea was behind the attack on the company.

Mr. Obama spoke on that and other issues at a year-end news conference.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was a year-end review dominated by the events of one week. As the fallout continued from the Sony hacking scandal, and the studio’s decision to cancel the release of the movie about assassinating North Korea’s leader, the president weighed in.

BARACK OBAMA: Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities and this and that and the other. I wish they had spoken to me first. I would’ve told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Without divulging specifics, he said the U.S. will respond to the attack.

Mr. Obama also discussed his move to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba. He acknowledged the country’s regime still oppresses its people, but did find room for optimism.

BARACK OBAMA: What I know deep in my bones is that if you have done the same thing for 50 years and nothing’s changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome. And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: His action on Cuba was just the latest instance of Mr. Obama’s using the power of the executive. Last month, he acted to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. Both moves enraged Republicans, who will control both houses of Congress come January.

Despite their differences, and the gridlock that has gripped Washington for much of his tenure, the president said he still believes cooperation is still possible.

BARACK OBAMA: We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement, and we have got to be able to make that happen. And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame-duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Obama took just a handful of questions, and only from women reporters, including one on race relations in America. It comes as the nation deals with anger over grand jury decisions in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri, not to indict white police officers in the killing of two black men.

The president says the country’s made progress, but work remains.

BARACK OBAMA: I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we have had. These are not new phenomena. The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been in the past stories passed on around the kitchen table allows people to, you know, make their own assessments and evaluations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president left tonight for his family’s Christmas vacation in Hawaii.

The post Obama closes 2014 with remarks on Cuba, North Korea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Shields and Brooks on reconciling with Cuba, Sony censorship

shieldsbrooks

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to talk about a full week of news, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, so much to talk about.

David, the story today, the headline story is North Korea, the administration confirming that they are behind this cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.

First of all, the president said flat out today that Sony made a mistake. What do you think?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I guess I think so.

You know, it’s — like the president said, we can’t have a country where people are self-censoring, and based on some foreign attack. If this was — if they had done a movie about a civil rights figure and a bunch of racists said, we’re going to do something to your company unless you pull this movie, and they pulled the movie, it would have been clear it would have been a disgraceful thing to do.

And I think this is somewhat similar. I do have some sympathy for Sony. They’re out there all alone against a country spending apparently hundreds of millions of dollars to target them. This is a collective action problem. The companies have to stick together. The government has to say an attack on a U.S. company or any company sited in the U.S. is an attack on the country, and the government has to step in. And, frankly, journalists have to step in.

I…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Step in? What do you mean?

DAVID BROOKS: When these — when the e-mails were leaked, I think reputable news organizations shouldn’t participate in publicizing them.

Now, obviously, they’re going to be out on the Web somewhere. Somebody is going to publicize what was in the e-mails. I do not think we should be involved in that business. It’s sort of — let somebody else do it. It is sort of aiding what is basically a terrorist act.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think David’s call for self-censoring on e-mails is high-minded. I don’t think it’s practical.

And I think this did contribute in part to Sony’s action. I mean, there’s an old Earl Long expression. Never write what you can speak, never speak what you can whisper, never whisper what you can nod, and never nod what you can wink.

And I think the e-mails were embarrassing to — not simply professionally, but personally to the people there. And I agree they’re trafficking in gossip. I think that accelerated Sony’s decision. And the question as to what happened between them and the theater owners is open, whether, in fact, Sony really did want the theater owners to say, take the pressure off us by saying you don’t want to show the film.

I mean, the president, I thought, was quite forceful. He was very measured. And he has let it know — I mean, proportionally, we don’t know what form it will take. I thought the ambassador made good points in the previous piece as to what form it can take, given the fact that there is no economic commerce between the two countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is there a clear path for the — in a situation like this, David, where you have a government going after a private company?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, you know, the president said that he spends twice as much time as his predecessor as cyber-security and his successor will spend twice as much time than him.

And so this is clearly going to be a gigantic issue. And among the cyber-security people — believe me, I’m no expert — but they talk about going on offense and that you have to have deterrents. We talk so much about smart and soft power.

This is a new form of hard power. It’s a kind of warfare that is being waged on us. And you simply have to intimidate and deter. And so the U.S. has to, as it does, obviously, have a capability to deter. And that means going on offense against the people who are doing bad things whether they’re in China, North Korea, Russia or anywhere else.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, some have looked at this and said, should there be limits on what movies are made about or what books are written about? If you’re going to go after a sitting leader of a country, are you opening yourself up for something like this?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I assume it was discussed at some point.

I mean, David’s point, are you going to be inhibited by making a biographical piece on Martin Luther King or John Lewis because some racists say you can’t do it, or Mandela, or whatever the case, you can’t be stampeded.

There had to be some consideration given to the marketability and what the impact would be of making — on a closed society, on someone who is not simply just paranoid, but obviously a self-deity as well. So, it’s a — I guess you substitute any other country. I mean, would you do it — would you make a satire on the assassination of the prime minister of Israel, of the pope, of the queen of England?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are there any limits here?

DAVID BROOKS: No, of course not. If a guy is a dictator, a ruthless dictator like this guy, you almost have a moral responsibility to write negative things about them.

And that’s the job of what we do. Now, it’s complicated because we have had so many of these cases involving Islam. Now, in another faith, then you want to show respect, obviously, because it’s a faith. But that doesn’t mean if somebody is an Islamist radical, you couldn’t — shouldn’t go after them.

And there have been cases obviously, in Europe particularly, where theater companies, where newspapers have backed down in the face of that threat. But you sort of have a moral responsibility. And being what we do it’s not that complicated, it’s not that dangerous, but we do have some responsibility to criticize people who deserve criticism.

MARK SHIELDS: Those of us a certain age do remember Charlie Chaplin’s Hitler, and, you know, the idea, and the brilliance of a piece like “The Producers,” of being able to make — enable people to laugh at somebody, which is the last thing in the world that a despot can live with.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk another big story this week, and it’s Cuba opening up to this country, David, after 53, 54 years.

Was it the right thing to do for the president to do this on his own and to say, we’re going to — we have given it a shot for half-a-century, it’s time to do something else?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it was the right move.

Listen, this policy has been in place longer than I have been alive and it’s failed all that time. So, eventually, maybe you try something else. And so this is about regime change. And I think Marco Rubio, who objected so strongly, has a case.

Venezuela is now poor because of the price of oil. They can’t afford to subsidize Cuba. Maybe the Cuban regime would have fallen faster and maybe we’re giving them a lifeline by opening up some trade and giving them some economic support.

Nonetheless, I think the way to look at it is, are we strengthening Cuban society with American influence? That regime is going to fall. We want Cuba to be a decent place to live after that regime falls. It’s better to have American influence there economically, culturally, intellectually. It will be a better society, so when the regime finally does fall, the transition, which we now know is so hard, from communism will be a little easier. I think the president did the right thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you say, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: David Brooks has been more successful in his five decades than has been this policy toward Cuba.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: You can make the case, Judy, that sanctions have worked economically. And I think they have — I think they’re working right now against Russia. They certainly worked against South Africa.

They worked — I think you can make the case they brought Iran to the bargaining table. They have not worked with Cuba. They were intended, when they were installed, to put pressure through the Cuban people on the Castro regime and it would topple.

The reverse occurred. It made, if anything, the administration — the regime became stronger and more entrenched. And so — and irrespective of Senator Rubio’s arguments, which may be — have historic validity, I think we want to acknowledge what we have done is wrong, it’s made no sense.

And if we do want to hasten that change and be part of that change, be an agent of that change and to make — help make Cuba a freer and fairer and better country, then I think that we believe in our exchange, a free exchange. So I commend the president for it. I think he did the right thing.

Politically, I would just point this out. John Kerry in — Al Gore in 2000 got 29 percent of the Cuban American vote in 2004. And Florida is the epicenter of what — Cuban Americans politically in this country. Al Gore got 29 percent in 2004. Barack Obama got 35 percent in 2008. And they split the vote in 2012.

So it is more of a political opportunity than it is a political liability.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, the fact the president did it on his own, he didn’t wait for Congress to get rid of the trade embargo?

DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s fine. I have conniptions when he does something on immigration, on domestic policy. But on foreign policy, the president has a lot more leeway. And I so think it’s fine that he did it.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

I mean, no, wait for the Congress, Judy? Come on.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: Let’s be — I’m serious about this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Did I say something crazy?

MARK SHIELDS: We have a Republican primary coming up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, speaking of Florida politicians — you both mentioned Marco Rubio — there is another Florida politician, David, Jeb Bush, the former governor, who hasn’t had his name on a ballot I guess in 12 years.

But he is moving closer to running. He’s going to set up an exploratory committee. What do you think? What does it look like?

DAVID BROOKS: I think he’s the favorite.

I wouldn’t say he’s a huge favorite, by any means, but I think he’s a plausible candidate. He was a successful governor from a swing state, and he has a good reputation in the party. He’s pretty conservative, not so much on immigration, but compared to Republican presidents in the past, he’s pretty conservative, not as conservative as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul,.

But he is sort of where the mainstream of the party is and I believe the party is coming back from its Tea Party phase. And it’s coming back to about where Jeb Bush is. And, basically, obviously, the obvious problem is he’s — last name is Bush. He has some hedge fund and some income issues he will have to deal with, but compared to the other candidates, the Christies, maybe the Rubio, the Paul, the Cruz, he has looked pretty — he looks less flawed than the other guys.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whoa. That’s high praise.

MARK SHIELDS: Less flawed.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Even better than our Cuba policy.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how do you size it up?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that Jeb Bush had a good week.

If you’re in the situation right now thinking about running for president, you want to postpone that as long as you can. You want to keep your powder dry. You don’t want to go through a two-year marathon endurance contest.

So what he did was, he forced the issue. he forced the issue by his announcement of an exploratory committee. Let it be noted that no exploratory committee in the history of American politics has ever come back and said anything but, there’s a groundswell out there for you, boss. Everybody wants you to run.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: But, by doing this, he did a couple of things.

First of all, he said he was going to release all his e-mails. That puts pressure on who?

JUDY WOODRUFF: From the time when he was governor.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, when he was governor.

That puts pressure on Chris Christie, the current governor of New Jersey, who has got some e-mails he’d just soon not have made public, and on Hillary Clinton, a possible opponent. She’s been reluctant to make public all her e-mails. He has also moved up the timetable for others to make the decision, smoked out people.

I do not see him as this great moderate. In fact, he was an ardently conservative governor of Florida. On two issues, on Common Core, the education standards test, which was a Republican embrace and has now been moved and abandoned by virtually every Republican and shoe leather, and immigration, are the two that really make him, I guess, the king of moderates in the current Republican Party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you don’t think it hurts — or do you think it hurts that he’s a Bush, another, the father, one son and now the other son?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it hurts.

But if he wasn’t running against a Clinton, it would really hurt. But if he’s running against a Clinton, what are we going to choose? It’s George Washington vs. Thomas Jefferson. We have some old names here.

MARK SHIELDS: Franklin Roosevelt, four times president of the United States, winner of World War II, saved the country in the Depression, his namesake, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., could get elected to the House of Representatives only from New York. He couldn’t even get elected attorney general.

The idea that George Herbert Walker Bush, a thoroughly admirable and good patriotic American, would spawn two sons in the space of 20 years who become president, are we that thin on talent in this country of 315 million people  that we go back to the same family three times in less than a generation?

JUDY WOODRUFF: We may have to ponder that one over the holidays. We have got a few days to think about it.

We’re not going to see the two of you before Christmas. I want to wish both of you a wonderful holiday, a merry Christmas.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a happy new year.

MARK SHIELDS: Same to you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And thank you for 2014, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you very much.

The post Shields and Brooks on reconciling with Cuba, Sony censorship appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Obama signs massive defense spending bill

An A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft flies over a target area during Operation Desert Storm. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech.
         Sgt. Fernando Serna

An A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft flies over a target area during Operation Desert Storm. President Barack Obama signed a defense bill today that would prohibit the retirement of the A-10. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Fernando Serna

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a massive defense policy bill that endorses his plan to fight Islamic State militants, including air strikes and training Iraqis and moderate Syrian rebels.

The law authorizes funds for basic military operations, from a 1 percent pay raise for troops to the purchase of ships, aircraft and other war-fighting equipment.

It also authorizes the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels battling the extremists for two years and provides $5 billion to train Iraqis battling the militants who brutally rule large sections of the two countries.

The measure provides the core funding of $521.3 billion for the military and $63.7 billion for overseas operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite Obama’s objections, it maintains a ban on transferring terror suspects from the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba to the United States for prosecution or imprisonment.

Obama issued a separate statement criticizing the ban on Guantanamo transfers in the defense bill and the government funding bill he signed earlier this week. Obama declared at the outset of his presidency that he wanted to close the detention center, but Congress has thwarted his efforts.

“I have consistently opposed these restrictions and will continue to work with the Congress to remove them,” Obama said. “The Guantanamo detention facility’s continued operation undermines our national security. We must close it.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, highlighted the ban on Guantanamo transfers. He said bringing terror suspects to the U.S. “would be both dangerous and deeply unpopular” with Americans.

“House Republicans will continue to do all we can to protect our national security and support our men and women in uniform, and look forward to working with the president to do the same,” he said.

The Pentagon sought cuts in military benefits. Lawmakers compromised in the bill by agreeing to make service members pay $3 more for co-pays on prescription drugs and trimming the growth of the off-base housing allowance by 1 percent instead of the Pentagon’s deeper 5 percent recommendation.

The law also prohibits retirement of the A-10 Warthog, the close-air support plane often described as ugly but invaluable.

The A-10 Warthog was designed specifically to fly in low and attack enemy forces, loitering over the battlefield. The Defense Department had planned to eliminate the entire fleet and save $3.5 billion over five years in favor of newer and more capable aircraft. NewsHour reported back in February.

The law changes the way the military justice system deals with sexual assault cases, including scrapping the nearly century-old practice of using a “good soldier defense” to raise doubts that a crime has been committed. The measure gives accusers a greater say in whether their cases are litigated in the military or civilian court system, and would establish a confidential process to allow victims to challenge their separation or discharge from the military.

It also makes victims of the November 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas, eligible to receive the Purple Heart. Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 wounded by Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, who has said he was angry about being deployed to Afghanistan and wanted to protect Islamic and Taliban leaders from U.S. troops.

The post Obama signs massive defense spending bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Obama: No quick end to embargo on Cuba

Obama Warns Of Deep Recession In Urging Debt-Ceiling IncreaseWASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama praised the reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba on Friday but said he doesn’t expect it to bring overnight change on the island, a quick end to the U.S. economic embargo or the likelihood that he will soon visit the communist nation.

“This is still a regime that oppresses its people,” Obama said at a year-end news conference two days after the historic announcement that he was moving to end the half century of Cold War acrimony with Havana. He said he hopes to visit Cuba at some point in his life but that he is not at the stage yet of going or hosting Cuban President Raul Castro in Washington.

Instead, Obama said the change in policy should give the U.S. a greater opportunity to have influence on Cuba and reflects his belief that 50 years of isolation haven’t worked. He said the embargo should end but he didn’t anticipate it soon.

“We will be in a position to respond to whatever action they take the same way we do with a whole range of countries around the world when they do things that we think are wrong,” Obama said. “There may be carrots as well as sticks that we can then apply.”

On another subject of what the U.S. sees as foreign wrongdoing, Obama was asked about the recent hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment and the company’s decision not to send out a new movie that North Korea was angrily protesting.

Speaking shortly after the FBI said North Korea was behind the hack, Obama said he felt Sony “made a mistake” in shelving the satirical film about a plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader. He said the U.S. would respond to North Korea’s action “in a place and manner and time that we choose.”

Cuba and North Korea were just two issues that Obama addressed concerning a year he saw as basically positive. In fact he declared 2014 “a breakthrough year for America,” putting aside the fits and starts of the past 12 months to focus on achievements and the prospect of compromise with his political foes who are taking control of Congress.

“My presidency is entering the fourth quarter. Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter,” Obama said before leaving on a two-week vacation to Hawaii.

The news conference came at the end of what Obama titled his “Year of Action,” one in which Congress failed to take up most of his agenda and he turned to looking for ways to act on his own. Republicans cried foul at that tactic, accusing Obama of overstepping his authority, and voters didn’t seem to think much of the strategy, either, giving the president low marks in public opinion polls.

On Friday, the president acknowledged many unanticipated crises in the past year but said he enters 2015 with renewed confidence that “America is making strides where it counts.” He said he intends to make sure the economy, government and justice system work for everyone.

“I am energized,” Obama declared, trying to shake off last month’s midterm elections that brought crushing losses for his party.

He ticked off the year’s improvements, citing lower unemployment and a rising number of Americans covered by health insurance and a historic diplomatic opening with Cuba. On climate change, the touted his own executive action and a Chinese agreement to combat global warming. He also noted that on Friday the Treasury Department announced it had sold the last investment related to the Wall Street and auto bailouts. And he said America’s combat mission in Afghanistan would soon be over.

“Take any metric that you want, America’s resurgence is real. We are better off,” Obama said.

He will return to Washington with both congressional chambers under Republican control — a first since he’s been in the White House — and attention turning to the 2016 race to replace him. While much of his agenda will face a dead end on Capitol Hill, Obama aides say he’ll look for areas of compromise on issues like trade and taxes and continue to act on his own where he can.

“I’m being sincere when I say I want to work with this new Congress to get things done,” Obama said.

Obama said he has been speaking to House Speaker John Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about how they can make progress.

“They are serious about wanting to get things done. The tax area is one area where we can get things done,” Obama said. He said he wanted to see more fairness and simplicity, but he cautioned, “The devil’s in the details.”

He said he also wants to see upgrades to the America’s deteriorating roadways along with tax reform.

The post Obama: No quick end to embargo on Cuba appeared first on PBS NewsHour.