— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) March 20, 2016
As President Obama prepares to land in Cuba on Sunday evening, the first visit to Cuba by a U.S. president in nearly 90 years, Cubans are brimming with a combination of excitement and trepidation.
President Obama plans to use Labor Day to announce a new step toward increased benefits for workers — ordering companies that do business with the government to provide paid sick leave for their employees.
The move, which Obama plans to announce with labor leaders in Boston, adds to a series of executive actions Obama has taken and comes as Congress resists legislation to change labor conditions and pay to cover all private-sector workers.
Obama’s executive actions directed at the labor market, which many Republicans see as excessive use of presidential authority, have been designed to boost worker pay and benefits. White House economists say that will lead to higher productivity in an era of stagnant wages, while nudging private companies and Congress to join in updating work conditions.
“We have to do better, and we can do better,” White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett said on a call with reporters. “While we’re waiting for Congress to do their job, President Obama is doing what he can.”
This latest order will require companies that have federal contracts to let workers accrue up to seven days of paid sick leave each year.
The action will provide coverage for as many as 300,000 workers whose jobs do not currently provide paid sick leave and many others with limited paid time-off benefits. It will begin in 2017.
The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without a federal family-leave law that guarantees workers can receive pay while taking time to care for themselves and loved ones. Current federal law mandates that companies provide leave, but does not require that it be paid.
Some states have paid-leave laws, but an estimated 44 million private-sector workers — about 40% of the private workforce — have no access to paid time off when they or a family member fall ill.
Over the last year, Obama has used his executive authority to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for workers in companies that contract with the federal government, expand overtime pay protections for all private-sector workers, and guarantee federal employees up to six weeks of paid leave with the arrival of a new child.
Labor Secretary Tom Perez said it’s time to shelve notions about America’s working families that were set in the “Leave it to Beaver” era and modernize the workplace to keep the United States competitive with other global powers.
“Other countries have done it, and they see the benefit,” said Perez, who has toured the country collecting stories of workers who suffered hardships, including a bus driver who brought her sick child with her on the bus rather than risk losing pay with time spent at home.
The administration would not provide an estimate of how much the new benefit will cost companies. But officials cited studies showing costs can be outweighed by the benefits of employee retention and worker satisfaction. Business groups tend to contest such estimates.
Obama plans to use his speech to call on Congress to pass legislation that would require all companies with 15 employees or more to offer up to seven days a year of paid sick leave.
Congress is unlikely to budge. Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republican majorities that resist such workplace interventions in favor of a hands-off approach that allows wages and benefits to be set by the marketplace.
Republicans are critical of Obama’s use of executive actions and have not looked favorably on his efforts to work around the legislative branch on workplace matters and other issues.
Instead, Republicans have passed bills, with support from some Democrats, to do away with regulations that businesses say hamper growth. Those have mostly been panned by the White House.
Obama chose Massachusetts for the announcement after voters there overwhelmingly approved a measure that provides workers at sizable companies up to 40 hours a year of paid sick leave. It went into effect July 1. The president plans to join union leaders Monday at a breakfast sponsored by the Greater Boston Labor Council.
The White House has had strained relations with organized labor this year as Obama pushed a free-trade agreement with Pacific nations that most unions opposed out of concern it would cause U.S. jobs to be sent overseas. But Monday’s announcement will draw labor support.
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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — President Barack Obama has opened a two-nation tour of Africa focused on deepening economic and security partnerships with the continent and its people.
Obama landed in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Friday.
His father was Kenyan and the trip amounts to a homecoming of sorts for Obama, who is expected to spend time with family.
Obama’s agenda for Saturday includes co-hosting a U.S.-sponsored business summit and a meeting with Kenya’s president, followed by a news conference and a state dinner.
He’ll address the Kenyan people on Sunday before departing for Ethiopia.
Obama meets Monday with Ethiopia’s president and prime minister, holds a news conference and attend a state dinner.
He addresses members of the African Union on Tuesday before heading back to Washington.
“I can’t believe that you’re leaving before me,” Obama said during his final appearance as commander-in-chief with Stewart on The Daily Show. “In fact, I’m issuing a new executive order that Jon Stewart cannot leave the show. It’s being challenged in the courts.”
Stewart has led his late-night talk and news satire program since 1999. His last day hosting will be August 6. He will be replacedby 31-year-old South African comedian and Daily Show contributor Trevor Noah, whose first show as host will be on September 28.
During the 30-minute interview, which was taped on Tuesday afternoon in New York City and aired that night, Stewart pressed Obama on the Iran nuclear deal, mismanagement at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, media and climate change.
“I finally know what I’m doing,” Obama said. “[There are] a bunch of other things that we want to get done, some of them we got started early.”
“Whose team are we on in the Middle East?” Stewart asked.
“Right now we’re going after ISIL, and we’ve got a 16-country coalition, and that’s a top priority,” Obama responded, using an acronym for the militant group, the Islamic State, better known as ISIS.
With the Iran deal reached last week, leaders won’t be able to obtain a nuclear weapon because the decision cuts off four major pathways for getting one, and the administration has international unanimity around an unprecedented inspection regime, Obama said. Congress has less than 60 days to vote on the deal. Obama has promised to veto a “no” vote from the leaders.
And as for presidential candidate Donald Trump entering the field for the Republican nomination?
“I’m sure the Republicans are enjoying Mr. Trump’s current dominance of their primary,” Obama joked. The real estate mogul, who spent months being skeptical of Obama’s original birth certificate, has been making headlines with some of his outlandish statements, most recently on Tuesday, when he revealed the personal cell phone number of South Carolina Lindsey Graham during a televised campaign speech.
Despite acknowledging there is work to finish, Obama noted his achievements with the economy.
“Stuff gets better if we work at it and we stay focused on where we’re going. It doesn’t immediately get all solved,” Obama said during an extended 20-minute interview posted to the show’s website. “It’s not just ‘fix it,’ it’s ‘how do we work together to get things done?'”
Obama’s appearance marked his seventh time on the Comedy Central show, including three appearances as president. In the past, Obama has met with other comedians, including with Jimmy Fallon on his late-night shows and with Zach Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns. He also recently sat down in a Los Angeles garage to speak candidly with comedian Marc Maron.
Flags will fly at half-staff at the White House and on federal grounds through sunset on Saturday to honor the service members killed in the shooting rampage last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Obama administration announced on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama said the thoughts and prayers of the country were with the four Marines and sailor who were killed, and he expressed gratitude to the police and first responders who stopped the attack and saved lives.
“We draw strength from yet another American community that has come together with an unmistakable message to those who would try and do us harm: We do not give in to fear,” the president said in a statement. “You cannot divide us. And you will not change our way of life.”
The announcement coincided with a speech by the president to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, held in Pittsburgh.
Obama pressed his case for the nuclear deal with Iran, saying that sending troops into battle isn’t always the smartest approach. Some Republicans have criticized the agreement as dangerous and shortsighted.
“I’m hearing echoes of some of the same policies and mindset that failed us in the past,” the president said. “Who paid the price? Our men and women in uniform.”
The president also called on Iran to free the Americans it is holding and U.S. military presence in the Middle East amidst the rise of ISIS. He also lauded moves toward normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba.
He also vowed that his administration would continue to work on shortening wait times at Department of Veteran Affairs facilities. He highlighted federal efforts to hire new doctors, open more clinics and help vets find care elsewhere if the commute to a clinic is too long.
“We’ve got to acknowledge (our) work is not done,” the president said, adding “I’m still not satisfied.”
Obama used the VFW speech to promote a crackdown on predatory lenders who target active-duty soldiers and other service members.
The administration emphasized that the new rule was announced on the fifth anniversary of the financial reform law known as Dodd-Frank, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
A decade ago, things “were at a crisis point,” Holly Petraeus, the bureau’s assistant director of servicemember affairs, told reporters ahead of the speech. She said some payday lenders set up outside bases and charge interest rates of as much as 450 percent.
In 2006, Congress sought to clean up military lending by passing a law capping interest rates at 36 percent. But the law had loopholes, and its protections did not apply to payday loans greater than $2,000 or borrowed longer than 91 days.
Petraeus said she visited bases across the country, where financial counselors told her that troops were struggling under high-interest loans. The administration said it did not have figures for how many troops were affected.
The new rule covers more types of loans and makes all loans subject to the 36 percent cap. It also blocks lenders from requiring service members to send a portion of their paychecks. The rule begins taking effect Oct. 1.
From the White House to the big house, President Obama made an unprecedented presidential visit to a federal prison Thursday as part of his push for changes to the criminal justice system. The president, after issuing dozens of commutations and tackling the subject during an NAACP address earlier this week, toured the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison for male offenders near Oklahoma City. He met separately Thursday with law enforcement officials and nonviolent drug offenders doing time there. In a brief statement to the media, Obama lamented the “huge surge” in incarceration since 1980, and said a primary driver of that is America’s drug laws. “We have to consider whether this is the smartest way for us to control crime,” Obama said. Obama has expressed hope that Congress will send him legislation to address the issue before he leaves office in 18 months, given the level of interest in the issue among Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a 2016 presidential contender, is pushing to restore voting rights to nonviolent felons who have served their sentences. According to the White House, Obama is the first sitting president to see the inside of a federal prison. Despite potential security concerns, Danny Spriggs, a former deputy director of the U.S. Secret Service, told the Associated Press the controlled environment of a prison is better than many public venues where presidents normally appear. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said “unique steps” were being taken to protect Obama during the visit. He did not elaborate. Meanwhile, the focus Thursday was on proposed changes to the criminal justice system. From shortening the prison sentences of nearly four-dozen non-violent drug offenders to advocating the reduction, or outright elimination, of severe mandatory minimum sentences, Obama has argued forcefully this week for an alternative to the continued lengthy incarceration of people convicted of crimes he said did not fit the punishment. Fourteen of the convicts whose sentences he commuted this week had been serving life in prison. “If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society. You have to be held accountable and make amends,” Obama said in a speech at the NAACP’s annual convention this week. “But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid.” Obama wasn’t the only one talking criminal justice reform Thursday. In New Jersey, GOP presidential candidate and Gov. Chris Christie called in a policy speech for giving nonviolent offenders with drug problems a better shot at rebuilding their lives. He pressed the need to treat drug addiction as a disease, calling for mandatory drug courts across the country, including in all 94 federal districts. Under a program he championed in New Jersey, nonviolent drug-addicted offenders can be sentenced to mandatory participation in drug treatment programs instead of jail time. Obama has said taxpayers are the ones left to pay the $80 billion annual cost of locking up people who otherwise could be in rehabilitative programs for less than the cost of incarceration. Or they could be workers paying taxes, or be more involved in their children’s lives, or be role models and leaders in their communities. Overly harsh prison sentences, particularly for nonviolent drug crimes, are to blame for doubling the prison population in the past two decades, Obama said. Half a million people were behind bars in 1980, a figured that has since quadrupled to its current total of more than 2.2 million inmates. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source: Obama makes 1st visit by sitting president to federal prison | Fox News
DURANT, Okla. (AP) — Calling the Internet a 21st century necessity, President Barack Obama on Wednesday unveiled a program to bring faster Internet connections to more low-income households, particularly to help students living in public and assisted housing stay ahead in school.
Under ConnectHome, the public, private and nonprofit sectors have pledged to work together to provide high-speed connections and digital devices to more families at lower cost.
More than 90 percent of households headed by a college graduate have Internet access, Obama said. But fewer than half of low-income households have similar access.
In this day and age, Obama said the “digital divide” puts these individuals at a disadvantage by limiting their educational and economic opportunities because the Internet is increasingly needed to find a job, finish homework or keep in touch with family and friends.
“In this digital age, when you can apply for a job, take a course, pay your bills … with a tap of your phone, the Internet is not a luxury. It’s a necessity,” Obama said in Durant, Oklahoma, on the first day of a two-day visit to the state.
“You cannot connect with today’s economy without having access to the Internet,” he said.
ConnectHome is similar to ConnectEd, a federal program that Obama said is on track to wire 99 percent of K-12 classrooms and libraries with high-speed Internet by the end of 2017.
ConnectHome will begin in 27 cities and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, which is headquartered in Durant. With about 200,000 members spread across much of southeastern Oklahoma, the Choctaw Nation is the nation’s third-largest Native American tribe.
The Choctaw Nation was also among the administration’s first “Promise Zones,” a designation that makes it eligible for tax incentives and grants to help fight poverty.
The only federal money expected to be spent on ConnectHome is a $50,000 Agriculture Department grant to the Choctaw Nation, officials said.
The 27 cities the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development selected for ConnectHome are: Albany, Georgia; Atlanta; Baltimore; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Boston; Camden, New Jersey; Cleveland; Denver; Durham, North Carolina; Fresno, California; Kansas City, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; Los Angeles; Macon, Georgia; Memphis, Tennessee; Meriden, Connecticut; Nashville, Tennessee; New Orleans; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Rockford, Illinois; San Antonio; Seattle; Springfield, Massachusetts; Tampa, Florida; and the District of Columbia.
Obama was spending the night in Oklahoma and on Thursday continuing a weeklong focus on making the criminal justice system fairer.
He planned to meet Thursday with law enforcement officials and inmates during a historic tour of the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution, a medium-security facility west of Oklahoma City that holds about 1,300 male offenders. “I will be the first sitting president to visit a federal prison,” Obama said in a speech Tuesday to the NAACP meeting in Philadelphia.
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President Obama announced in a video released Monday that he will grant clemency to 46 prisoners. “These men and women were not hardened criminals,” the president said. “But the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years,” many for “non-violent drug offenses.”
“Their punishments didn’t fit the crime,” the president said. “And if they’d been sentenced under today’s laws, nearly all of them would have already served their time.”
Obama has now commuted 89 prisoners — the most since Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.