Warm Welcome to Obama by Trudeau and Canadians | Obama stresses Pluralism and Tolerance

On June 29th, 2016, President Obama joined with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, hosted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the North American Leader’s Summit. Obama was given a warm welcome at the event and his speech to the Canadian Parliament and Prime Minister Trudeau received a number of standing ovations. His reception was strong not only because he mentioned a number of Canadian icons, but also because of the resonance that the dignitaries felt when he mentioned that the US and Canada need to work together, leading the world in demonstrable ways to show racial tolerance and in committing to renewable energy.

US President, Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, North American Leader's Summit

US President Barack Obama Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto North American Leader’s Summit

Certainly there are transcripts, yet I’ve included the notes that I took, which are extracted highlights of Obama’s address. He stressed many of the values that our two countries share and went on to talk about international trade, security and climate change; mentioning that the latter is not an abstraction, but very real and happening right now.

President Obama stressed tolerance, pluralism and open arms to immigrants and refugees; specifically being inclusive with Muslim communities around the world to provide them with hope and opportunities.

Obama, warm response

Obama’s opening moments and warm response

He spoke of the need to respect the dignity of all people, especially those who are most vulnerable and of our commitment to a common creed. We must not waver in embracing our best values. Both of our nations are nations of immigrants who must continue to welcome people from around the world. The vibrance of our economies is enhanced through embracing refugees.

“We can’t label people as terrorists, who are the vulnerable people who are fleeing terrorism.”

Obama, Maryam Monsef, Canadian MP, member of parliament

Obama acknowledges Maryam Monsef Canadian (MP) member of parliament who is an immigrant from Afghanistan

With respect to his point of the obvious need to be tolerant and receptive to immigrants and refugees, Obama mentioned Maryam Monsef, an Incoming Liberal (MP) Member of Parliament sitting there in the session. “She was only three years old when her father was killed, caught in bloody crossfire at the border of Iran and Afghanistan. This link in the Ottawa Citizen includes an interview with her.”

Maryam Monsef, Afghanistan immigrant,  Canadian MP

Maryam Monsef Afghanistan immigrant now MP in Canada interview

Here are my highlights of his speech:

He started by claiming that the long border shared between Canada and the United States has maintained the longest period of peace of any border worldwide.

The transatlantic values we share as liberal based democracies are still strong.

The circumstances of Brexit may be unique to the UK, yet the frustrations people felt are not. Working things out on the short term is one thing, but the long term trends of inequality, dislocation and resulting social division can’t be ignored.

How we respond to the forces of globalization and technological change will determine the durability of an international order that ensures future prosperity for future generations.

We share the values of pluralism, tolerance and equal opportunity.

He referenced a quote; A country is something that is built every day out of shared values” and that.with respect to this, what is true of countries is true of the world.

If our recent financial crisis and recession taught us anything, it is that our countries do better when everyone has an opportunity to succeed.

If a CEO makes more in a day than an employee makes in a year, it is bad for the economy; that worker is not a very good customer for business.

If a young man in Ohio can’t pay his student loans or a young woman in Ontario can’t pay her bills, it tamps down on the possibilities of growth. We need to embrace policies that will lift everybody up.

The measure of an economy is how the people are doing.

We may think that drawing a line around our borders for more control is the way to go. However, restricting trade or giving in to protectionism in this 21st c economy will not work.

When combined with investment, research & development… we can spur the connectivity that makes all of us better off.

We need to look forward, not backward.

Thanks Canada for hosting the negotiations with the Cuban government.

Justin Trudeau, Obama

Justin Trudeau and his wife responding to Obama’ words

Wealthy countries like ours cannot reach our full potential when other countries around the world are mired in poverty.

With our commitment to new sustainable development goals, we have a chance to end the outrage of extreme poverty. Bring more electricity to Africa, banish the Zika virus, our goal of the first AIDS-free generation. Working to replace corruption with transparent institutions that serve their people.

Development is not charity, it is an investment in our future prosperity. Our own security is enhanced when we step up for all nations to have the right to security and peace.

Multilateralism is not a dirty word. (In 1990, Robert Keohane defined multilateralism as “the practice of coordinating national policies in groups of three or more states.)

We will continue helping forces to push back comprehensively against terrorist networks.

We will work with partners around the world, in contrast to the hatred and nihilism of terrorists. I looked up the word Nihilism = the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.

Being inclusive in particular with Muslim communities; to offer a better vision, path of development, opportunity and tolerance, because they are and must be our partners in this effort.

We will be more secure when every NATO member contributes all of its forces. NATO needs more Canada.

Our two countries are leaders in humanitarian aid. We are going to work as hard as we can to help Syrians to live in peace.

The threat of climate change is not an abstraction. It is happening now. Last year he was the first US president to visit the Arctic. The tundra is burning, permafrost is thawing.

Climate change is not just a moral issue, it is not just an economic issue, it is an urgent matter of our national security.

Carbon emissions in the US are back to where they were two decades ago, even as we’ve grown the economy.

Alberta is working hard to reduce CO2 emissions, while still promoting economic growth.

If Canada can do this, the whole world can do this. We can lead the world. We need to bring it into force this year. The whole world can unleash economic growth while still protecting our planet.

Paris just had the most robust Climate Summit and we need to follow through with implementing these goals.

Let’s generate half our energy from clean energy sources within a decade. This is achievable.

We need to save the planet, and America and Canada are going to have to lead the way.
(As I listened to this I thought to myself that actually Germany is already leading the way in terms of implementing renewable energy. They stopped all nuclear power plants following the Fukushima incident. And in their green revolution, the southern city of Freiburg gets 100 % of its power from renewable energy.)

Freiburg, Germany, 100 % renewable, green energy revolution

Freiburg, Germany is 100 % renewable, leads in green energy revolution

We believe in the right of all people to have the right to succeed in our society.

What a powerful message of reconciliation around the world when Justin, your government pledged a new relationship with the First Nations.

Democracy is not easy. There are those that offer a politics of “us verses them”, a politics that scapegoats others, the immigrant, the refugee, someone who seems different than us.

We have to call this mentality what it is: a threat to the values that we profess, the values that we seek to defend. It’s because we respect all people that the world looks to us as an example. Our Muslim friends who are our neighbors, serve in our government We need to stand up against the slander and the hatred of those towards people who look or worship differently. Obama mentioned that he has a bias (having two daughters) and wants all woman to have the same opportunities as men.

He professed to the audience not to shy away from speaking about these values of pluralism, tolerance and equality. These are universal values, inalienable rights, the rights of citizens to speak the truth, the rights of journalists to speak the truth.

A respect for the dignity of all people, especially those who are most vulnerable. Our commitment to a common creed. We must not waver in embracing our best values. Both of our nations are nations of immigrants who must continue to welcome people from around the world. The vibrance of our economies is enhanced through embracing refugees. We can’t label people as terrorists, vulnerable people who are fleeing terrorism.

We were all once strangers. Your grandparents were strangers; they fumbled with language, faced discrimination and had cultural norms that didn’t fit. At some point somewhere, your family was an outsider. We will continue to welcome refugees and ensure that we are doing so in a way that maintains our security. We can and we will do both.

Increase our support to central america.

The coming global summit this autumn on refugees, we must step up and meet the needs.

People of good will and compassion show us the way.

Obama, Canadian government, North American Alliance

Obama gesticulating in his speech to the Canadian government and North American Alliance

How blessed we are to have had people before us, day by day who built these extraordinary countries of ours.

Barack Obama ended his speech saying “What a blessing”…and what a positive and lovely, gentle way to end of speech, to communicate such a positive concept to let this ripple through the room and the world’s stage.

Thank you Barack!

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Too Potent to Pass | TomDispatch feat. Peter Van Buren: What They Won’t Talk About in the Foreign Policy Debates

I’ve only recently been exposed to Tom DisPatch; self described antidote to the Mainstream Media. It was a referral from the online Utne Reader, an alternative press magazine which I’ve valued as a source of information for years. Peter Van Buren’s style of delivery and content emphatically blows open the doors of perception. I felt compelled to re post his blog, in awe of his insights and frankly, because I believe we all need to be shaken out of our presumptions.

re-post:

Don’t Ask and Don’t Tell
Six Critical Foreign Policy Questions That Won’t Be Raised in the Presidential Debates
By Peter Van Buren

We had a debate club back in high school. Two teams would meet in the auditorium, and Mr. Garrity would tell us the topic, something 1970s-ish like “Resolved: Women Should Get Equal Pay for Equal Work” or “World Communism Will Be Defeated in Vietnam.” Each side would then try, through persuasion and the marshalling of facts, to clinch the argument. There’d be judges and a winner.

Today’s presidential debates are a long way from Mr. Garrity’s club. It seems that the first rule of the debate club now is: no disagreeing on what matters most. In fact, the two candidates rarely interact with each other at all, typically ditching whatever the question might be for some rehashed set of campaign talking points, all with the complicity of the celebrity media moderators preening about democracy in action. Waiting for another quip about Big Bird is about all the content we can expect.

But the joke is on us. Sadly, the two candidates are stand-ins for Washington in general, a “war” capital whose denizens work and argue, sometimes fiercely, from within a remarkably limited range of options. It was D.C. on autopilot last week for domestic issues; the next two presidential debates are to be in part or fully on foreign policy challenges (of which there are so many). When it comes to foreign — that is, military — policy, the gap between Barack and Mitt is slim to the point of nonexistent on many issues, however much they may badger each other on the subject. That old saw about those who fail to understand history repeating its mistakes applies a little too easily here: the last 11 years have added up to one disaster after another abroad, and without a smidgen of new thinking (guaranteed not to put in an appearance at any of the debates to come), we doom ourselves to more of the same.

So in honor of old Mr. Garrity, here are five critical questions that should be explored (even if all of us know that they won’t be) in the foreign policy-inclusive presidential debates scheduled for October 16th, and 22nd — with a sixth bonus question thrown in for good measure.

1. Is there an end game for the global war on terror?

The current president, elected on the promise of change, altered very little when it came to George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (other than dropping the name). That jewel-in-the-crown of Bush-era offshore imprisonment, Guantanamo, still houses over 160 prisoners held without trial or hope or a plan for what to do with them. While the U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq — mostly because our Iraqi “allies” flexed their muscles a bit and threw us out — the war in Afghanistan stumbles on. Drone strikes and other forms of conflict continue in the same places Bush tormented: Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan (and it’s clear that northern Mali is heading our way).

A huge national security state has been codified in a host of new or expanded intelligence agencies under the Homeland Security umbrella, and Washington seems able to come up with nothing more than a whack-a-mole strategy for ridding itself of the scourge of terror, an endless succession of killings of “al-Qaeda Number 3” guys. Counterterrorism tsar John Brennan, Obama’s drone-meister, has put it this way: “We’re not going to rest until al-Qaeda the organization is destroyed and is eliminated from areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Africa, and other areas.”

So, candidates, the question is: What’s the end game for all this? Even in the worst days of the Cold War, when it seemed impossible to imagine, there was still a goal: the “end” of the Soviet Union. Are we really consigned to the Global War on Terror, under whatever name or no name at all, as an infinite state of existence? Is it now as American as apple pie?

2. Do today’s foreign policy challenges mean that it’s time to retire the Constitution?

A domestic policy crossover question here. Prior to September 11, 2001, it was generally assumed that our amazing Constitution could be adapted to whatever challenges or problems arose. After all, that founding document expanded to end the slavery it had once supported, weathered trials and misuses as dumb as Prohibition and as grave as Red Scares, Palmer Raids, and McCarthyism. The First Amendment grew to cover comic books, nude art works, and a million electronic forms of expression never imagined in the eighteenth century. Starting on September 12, 2001, however, challenges, threats, and risks abroad have been used to justify abandoning core beliefs enshrined in the Bill of Rights. That bill, we are told, can’t accommodate terror threats to the Homeland. Absent the third rail of the Second Amendment and gun ownership (politicians touch it and die), nearly every other key amendment has since been trodden upon.

The First Amendment was sacrificed to silence whistleblowers and journalists. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were ignored to spy on Americans at home and kill them with drones abroad. (September 30th was the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration’s first acknowledged murder without due process of an American — and later his teenaged son — abroad. The U.S. has similarly killed two other Americans abroad via drone, albeit “by accident.”) [Here’s a link I’ve added for a quick view of the Amendments to the United States Constitution]

So, candidates, the question is: Have we walked away from the Constitution? If so, shouldn’t we publish some sort of notice or bulletin?

3. What do we want from the Middle East?

Is it all about oil? Israel? Old-fashioned hegemony and containment? What is our goal in fighting an intensifying proxy war with Iran, newly expanded into cyberspace? Are we worried about a nuclear Iran, or just worried about a new nuclear club member in general? Will we continue the nineteenth century game of supporting thug dictators who support our policies in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya (until overwhelmed by events on the ground), and opposing the same actions by other thugs who disagree with us like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad? That kind of policy thinking did not work out too well in the long run in Central and South America, and history suggests that we should make up our mind on what America’s goals in the Middle East might actually be. No cheating now — having no policy is a policy of its own.

Candidates, can you define America’s predominant interest in the Middle East and sketch out a series of at least semi-sensical actions in support of it?

4. What is your plan to right-size our military and what about downsizing the global mission?

The decade — and counting — of grinding war in Iraq and Afghanistan has worn the American military down to its lowest point since Vietnam. Though drugs and poor discipline are not tearing out its heart as they did in the 1970s, suicide among soldiers now takes that first chair position. The toll on families of endless deployments is hard to measure but easy to see. The expanding role of the military abroad (reconstruction, peacekeeping, disaster relief, garrisoning a long necklace of bases from Rota, Spain, to Kadena, Okinawa) seems to require a vast standing army. At the same time, the dramatic increase in the development and use of a new praetorian guard, Joint Special Operations Command, coupled with a militarized CIA and its drones, have given the president previously unheard of personal killing power. Indeed, Obama has underscored his unchecked solo role as the “decider” on exactly who gets obliterated by drone assassins.

So, candidates, here’s a two-parter: Given that a huge Occupy Everywhere army is killing more of its own via suicide than any enemy, what will you do to right-size the military and downsize its global mission? Secondly, did this country’s founders really intend for the president to have unchecked personal war-making powers?

5. Since no one outside our borders buys American exceptionalism anymore, what’s next? What is America’s point these days?

The big one. We keep the old myth alive that America is a special, good place, the most “exceptional” of places in fact, but in our foreign policy we’re more like some mean old man, reduced to feeling good about himself by yelling at the kids to get off the lawn (or simply taking potshots at them).

During the Cold War, the American ideal represented freedom to so many people, even if the reality was far more ambiguous. Now, who we are and what we are abroad seems so much grimmer, so much less appealing (as global opinion polls regularly indicate). In light of the Iraq invasion and occupation, and the failure to embrace the Arab Spring, America the Exceptional, has, it seems, run its course.

America the Hegemonic, a tough if unattractive moniker, also seems a goner, given the slo-mo defeat in Afghanistan and the never-ending stalemate that is the Global War on Terror. Resource imperialist? America’s failure to either back away from the Greater Middle East and simply pay the price for oil, or successfully grab the oil, adds up to a “policy” that only encourages ever more instability in the region. The saber rattling that goes with such a strategy (if it can be called that) feels angry, unproductive, and without any doubt unbelievably expensive.

So candidates, here are a few questions: Who exactly are we in the world and who do you want us to be? Are you ready to promote a policy of fighting to be planetary top dog — and we all know where that leads — or can we find a place in the global community? Without resorting to the usual “shining city on a hill” metaphors, can you tell us your vision for America in the world? (Follow up: No really, cut the b.s and answer this one, gentlemen. It’s important!)

6. Bonus Question: To each of the questions above add this: How do you realistically plan to pay for it? For every school and road built in Iraq and Afghanistan on the taxpayer dollar, why didn’t you build two here in the United States? When you insist that we can’t pay for crucial needs at home, explain to us why these can be funded abroad. If your response is we had to spend that money to “defend America,” tell us why building jobs in this country doesn’t do more to defend it than anything done abroad.

Now that might spark a real debate, one that’s long, long overdue.

Peter Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq. Now in Washington and a TomDispatch regular, he writes about Iraq, the Middle East, and U.S. diplomacy at his blog, We Meant Well. Following the publication of his book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (the American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), the Department of State began termination proceedings, stripping him of his security clearance and diplomatic credentials. Through the efforts of the Government Accountability Project and the ACLU, Van Buren instead retired from the State Department with his full benefits of service.

Copyright 2012 Peter Van Buren