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... some communities have consistently had the odds stacked against them. That’s true of rural communities with chronic poverty. That’s true of some manufacturing communities that suffered after the plants they depended on closed their doors. It’s true of some suburbs and inner cities, where jobs can be hard to find and harder to get to.
President Obama focused this morning in his weekly address on efforts to expand opportunity for all Americans, pointing out that a "sense of unfairness and powerlessness has helped to fuel the kind of unrest we've seen in places like Baltimore, Ferguson, Baltimore and New York."
It has many causes – from a basic lack of opportunity to groups feeling unfairly targeted by police – which means there’s no single solution. But there are many that could make a different and could help. And we have to do everything in our power to make this country’s promise real for everyone willing to work for it.
The president pointed to past programs and projects that have been successful in helping struggling Americans, from Social Security to the Earned Income Tax Credit—and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He also stressed past efforts he's made—just this past week, a summit on poverty—and a visit he plans next week to Camden, New Jersey, to meet with city officials there who have managed to reduce crime and create a safer city.

He closed with a unifying reminder to listeners:

Whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or independents; whether we live in one of our poorest communities, one of our wealthiest, or anywhere in between, we all want our country to be one where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded. We want a place where you can make it if you try.
To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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Protesters clash with police near Mondawmin Mall after Freddie Gray's funeral in Baltimore April 27, 2015. Several Baltimore police officers were injured on Monday in violent clashes with young people after the funeral of Gray, a black man who died in police custody, and local law enforcement warned of a threat by gangs. REUTERS/Sait Serkan Gurbuz - RTX1AJIX
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard as protests and confrontations with the police have swept through the city today in the wake of the funeral for Freddie Gray, according to the Baltimore Sun, and unrest is anticipated throughout the night. Multiple stores have been looted, a CVS was engulfed in flames, cars have been burned and several people have been dragged out of their cars. Chaos.
Violence and looting overtook much of West Baltimore on Monday, seriously injuring several police officers and leaving a store and several vehicles in flames.

At least seven police officers were injured in a clash that began near Mondawmin Mall and spread toward downtown. One officer was unresponsive and others suffered broken bones, police spokesman Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said....

Said Gov. Hogan:
"Today’s looting and acts of violence in Baltimore will not be tolerated," he said in a statement. "I strongly condemn the actions of the offenders who are engaged in direct attacks against innocent civilians, businesses and law enforcement officers. There is a significant difference between protesting and violence and those committing these acts will be prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law."
Gray died in police custody and the family has been demanding answers since his death. Earlier today, the Baltimore Police Department released a statement claiming there were "credible threats" that gangs planned to "take out" police officers.

The Baltimore Sun is liveblogging events as they unfold, and jpmassar has been keeping track of photos being posted on Twitter.

Right now, on an uneven playing field. Where the rules are different. And that’s why America has to write the rules of the global economy – so that our workers can compete on a level playing field.
President Obama made his case for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership in this morning's weekly address, clearly feeling the pressure of skeptics and the need to reassure some of his usual allies on the left, most directly by acknowledging the past failure of such trade pacts to protect American workers.

This time, he claims, the deal is different. "I understand why a lot of people are skeptical of trade deals," he told listeners. "Past deals didn't always live up to the hype. They didn't include the kind of protections we're fighting for today." The specifics he pointed to in TPP that make this deal different:

It’s the highest-standard trade agreement in history. It’s got strong provisions for workers and the environment – provisions that, unlike in past agreements, are actually enforceable. If you want in, you have to meet these standards. If you don’t, then you’re out. Once you’re a part of this partnership, if you violate your responsibilities, there are actually consequences. And because it would include Canada and Mexico, it fixes a lot of what was wrong with NAFTA, too.
He closed his address with more general reassurances and reminders of benefits his administration has already put in place for workers:
So this isn’t a race to the bottom, for lower wages and working conditions. The trade agreements I’m negotiating will drive a race to the top. And we’re making sure American workers can retool through training programs and community colleges, and use new skills to transition into new jobs.
To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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This is an issue that’s bigger and longer-lasting than my presidency. It's about protecting our God-given natural wonders, and the good jobs that rely on them. It's about shielding our cities and our families from disaster and harm. It's about keeping our kids healthy and safe. This is the only planet we've got. And years from now, I want to be able to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we did everything we could to protect it.
President Obama, in an early acknowledgement of Earth Day, focused this morning's weekly address on climate change, in a strong and passionate declaration of commitment and an outline of what's at stake. "There’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change," he told listeners, before listing the consequences:
Stronger storms. Deeper droughts. Longer wildfire seasons. The world’s top climate scientists are warning us that a changing climate already affects the air our kids breathe. Last week, the Surgeon General and I spoke with public experts about how climate change is already affecting patients across the country. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.
The president spoke of an upcoming visit to the Florida Everglades on Earth Day, one of the areas where the environment is most fragile—and where, he points out, the economic impact of climate change will be most pronounced. And he vowed to commit the United States to a leadership role in facing the crisis:
So climate change can no longer be denied – or ignored. The world is looking to the United States – to us – to lead. And that’s what we're doing. We're using more clean energy than ever before. America is number one in wind power, and every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008.
To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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Our work—this deal—is not yet done. Diplomacy is painstaking work. Success is not guaranteed. But today we have an historic opportunity to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in Iran, and to do so peacefully, with the international community firmly behind us. And this will be our work in the days and months ahead in keeping with the best traditions of American leadership.
President Obama this morning in his weekly address outlined the details of the understanding being worked out with Iran over nuclear weapons, calling the agreement "historic" and the result of "tough, principled diplomacy."

The details:

This deal denies Iran the plutonium necessary to build a bomb. It shuts down Iran’s path to a bomb using enriched uranium. Iran has agreed that it will not stockpile the materials needed to build a weapon. Moreover, international inspectors will have unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear program because Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world. If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it. So this deal is not based on trust, it’s based on unprecedented verification.
While he acknowledged there will be "robust" discussion of the agreement in the weeks ahead, both in Congress and by the American people, he reminded listeners of the reality of the options:
As we engage in this debate, let’s remember—we really only have three options for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program: bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities—which will only set its program back a few years—while starting another war in the Middle East; abandoning negotiations and hoping for the best with sanctions—even though that’s always led to Iran making more progress in its nuclear program; or a robust and verifiable deal like this one that peacefully prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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No one can claim she’s unqualified. No one’s saying she can’t do the job. Senators from both parties say they support her. This is purely about politics. First, Republicans held up her nomination because they were upset about the actions I took to make our broken immigration system smarter and fairer. Now they’re denying her a vote until they can figure out how to pass a bill on a completely unrelated issue. But they could bring her up for a yes-or-no vote at any time.
President Obama let loose on the obstructionist Senate Republican majority today in his weekly address, calling them out on their holding up of Loretta Lynch's confirmation as attorney general to replace retiring Eric Holder.

Just look at her qualifications, he said:

For 30 years, Loretta has distinguished herself as a tough, fair, and independent attorney. As the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, she successfully prosecuted the terrorists who plotted to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank and the New York City subway. She helped secure billions in settlements for people wronged by some of the world’s biggest banks. She’s been dogged in her pursuit of public corruption. She’s jailed some of New York’s most violent and notorious mobsters and gang members. And through it all, she’s worked closely with law enforcement and local communities to get the job done.
And hey, Republicans claimed they wanted to govern, he said in closing. Prove it:
Republicans promised that Congress would function smoothly with them in charge. Here’s a small chance for them to prove it. Congress should stop playing politics with law enforcement and national security. They should support good people in both parties who want to reform our criminal justice system. And that means they should end the longest confirmation process for an Attorney General in three decades, and give Loretta Lynch a vote.
To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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Protestors block a police vehicle from entering the City of Ferguson Police Department and Municipal Court parking lot in Ferguson Missouri, March 11, 2015. The police chief of Ferguson, Missouri, resigned on Wednesday, following a scathing U.S. Justice D
Via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
CLAYTON • A man who participated in a protest outside the Ferguson police station Wednesday returned and fired shots — possibly at someone other than police — that wounded two officers, authorities said Sunday.

Jeffrey Williams, 20, was charged with two counts of first-degree assault, one count of firing a weapon from a vehicle and three counts of armed criminal action. He was in custody, with cash-only bail set at $300,000.

"It is possible that he was firing at someone other than the police," St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch said at a press conference.

Two officers were injured in the shooting and have since been released from the hospital.

McCulloch said Williams was wanted for violating probation stemming from a previous charge of receiving stolen property.

For continuing updates, check the evolving story at the Post-Dispatch website. Ongoing discussion of the arrest and press conference can be found in jpmassar's diary.

In America, a higher education cannot be a privilege reserved for only the few. It has to be available to everybody who’s willing to work for it.
President Obama focused on his proposed Student Bill of Rights in this morning's weekly address, pointing to the climbing costs and onerous loans college graduates are saddled with as they start out in life. His plan, in a nutshell:
... this week, I unveiled another way that we can help more Americans afford college. It doesn’t involve any new spending or bureaucracy. It’s a simple declaration of values – what I call a Student Aid Bill of Rights. It says that every student deserves access to a quality, affordable education. Every student should be able to access the resources to pay for college. Every borrower has the right to an affordable repayment plan. And every borrower has the right to quality customer service, reliable information, and fair treatment, even if they struggle to repay their loans.
He said the $28,000 average debt that students have on their plate, even though it's "the surest ticket to the middle class," must be dealt with. Fairly. And that pressure from all of us is needed to make this happen:
So if you believe in a Student Aid Bill of Rights that will help more Americans pay for a quality education, I’m asking you to visit Sign your name to this declaration. Tell your families, and your friends, and fellow students. I’m going to ask Members of Congress, and lenders, and as many business leaders as I can find. Because making sure that students aren’t saddled with debt before they even get started in life is in all our interests.
To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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Gavel on book, with Earth in background
Is the arc of justice becoming apparent in Ferguson, Missouri?
Apparently the effects of the Department of Justice report on Ferguson are starting to be felt, as the Ferguson so-called "justice system" gets a shake-up.
FERGUSON—The Missouri Supreme Court announced Monday that it will take the "extraordinary action" of reassigning all Ferguson municipal court cases to the circuit court, starting next week.

In a press release, the court announced the move was intended "to help restore public trust and confidence in the Ferguson municipal court division."

Ferguson municipal judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer resigned his position this afternoon, a spokesman at his law office said. He will continue his other municipal court positions as prosecutor in Dellwood, Vinita Park and Florissant, and judge in Breckenridge Hills.

As indicated above, Brockmeyer is the gentleman holding down several jobs in the area—and who, in his busyness, appears to have forgotten to pay his $170,000+ IRS bill.

May this be the first of many "extraordinary" actions.

In too many parts of the world, girls are still valued more for their bodies than for their minds. That’s just plain wrong. And we all have to do more to stop it.
Girls and their education were on the mind of President Obama in this morning's weekly address, as he discussed the "Let Girls Learn" initiative that he and his wife, Michelle, have launched—a perfect topic for the weekend to mark Sunday's International Women's Day.

The new initiative, he said, will focus on how America will be "making it clear to any country that’s our partner – or that wants to be our partner – that they need to get serious about increasing the number of girls in school." Diplomats, Peace Corps members, NGO's and development experts will be pulled into the effort.

I come to this issue as the leader of the world’s largest economy, and Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful military, and I’m convinced that a world in which girls are educated is a safer, more stable, more prosperous place.When girls are educated, their future children are healthier and better nourished. Their future wages increase, which in turn strengthens their families’ security. National growth gets a boost, too. And places where women and girls are treated as full and equal citizens tend to be more stable and more democratic.
But, of course, he also has some first-hand views about girls and education as First Dad:
I also come to this issue as the father of two wonderful young women. And I know that there are lots of girls just like Malia and Sasha out there – girls who are funny and caring and inquisitive and strong, and have so much to offer the world.
To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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But right now, there are no rules of the road. Many financial advisers put their clients’ interest first – but some financial advisers get backdoor payments and hidden fees in exchange for steering people into bad investments. All told, bad advice that results from these conflicts of interest costs middle-class and working families about $17 billion every year.
President Obama explained his latest directive to the Department of Labor to tighten up rules around financial advisers and retirement advice in this morning's weekly address, talking about lack of "rules of the road" and how that affects people saving for retirement in the long run.
Middle-class families cannot afford to lose their hard earned savings after a lifetime of work. They deserve to be treated with fairness and respect. And that’s what this rule would do.
While the president acknowledged that many advisers are up front about hidden fees, he still maintained that there is a need for more oversight in this area, given that "bad advice that results from these conflicts of interest costs middle-class and working families about $17 billion every year." And he also warned listeners that there will indeed be pushback:
We’re going to keep pushing for this rule, because it’s the right thing to do for our workers and for our country. The strength of our economy rests on whether hard-working families can not only share in America’s success, but can also contribute to America’s success. And that’s what I will never stop fighting for – an economy where everyone who works hard has the chance to get ahead.
To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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And as we speak, China is trying to write the rules for trade in the 21st century.

That would put our workers and our businesses at a massive disadvantage. We can’t let that happen. We should write those rules.

That’s why Congress should act on something called “trade promotion authority.”

President Obama made a pitch for trade promotion authority, otherwise known as "fast track," in his weekly address this morning, urging Congress to pass the legislation and telling listeners the policy would enable America to set trade deals on our own terms.

He acknowledged, however, that there is a bitter history (think NAFTA) that has left many in the country leery of such "deals":

Now, I’m the first to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype. And that’s why we’ve successfully gone after countries that break the rules at our workers’ expense. But that doesn’t mean we should close ourselves off from new opportunities, and sit on the sidelines while other countries write our future for us. We should seize those opportunities.  We should make sure the future is written by us. And if we do, we won’t just keep creating good new jobs for decades to come – we’ll make sure that this century is another all-American century.
To read the transcript in full, check below the fold or visit the White House website.
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