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Obama on Gun Laws; Dow's Best First Quarter Since 1998; Cyprus Banks Reopen; Interview with Russell Simmons

Aired March 28, 2013 - 12:00   ET


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Burns deep in the families of thousands. Thousands of Americans who have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun over these last hundred days, including Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed on her way to school less than two months ago and whose mom is also here today.

Everything they lived for and hoped for taken away in an instant. We have moms on this stage whose children were killed as recently as 35 days ago. I don't think any of us who are parents can hear their stories and not think about our own daughters and our own sons and our own grandchildren.

We all feel that it is our first impulse as parents to do everything we can to protect our children from harm, to make any sacrifice to keep them safe. To do what we have to do to give them a future where they can grow up and learn and explore and become the amazing people they're destined to be.

That's why in January Joe Biden, leading a task force, came up with and I put forward a series of common sense proposals to reduce the epidemic of gun violence and keep our kids safe. In my State of the Union Address, I called on Congress to give these proposals a vote. And in just a couple of weeks, they will.

Earlier this month, the Senate advanced some of the most important reforms designed to reduce gun violence. All of them are consistent with the Second Amendment. None of them will infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners. What they will do is keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people who put others at risk.

This is our best chance in more than a decade to take common sense steps that will save lives. As I said when I visited Newtown just over three months ago, if there is a step we can take that will save just one child, just one parent, just another town from experiencing the same grief that some of the moms and dads who are here have endured, then we should be doing it. We have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, members of Congress will vote on whether we should require universal background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun so that criminals or people with severe mental illnesses can't get their hands on one. They'll vote on tough new penalties for anyone who buys guns only to turn around and sell them to criminals. They'll vote on a measure that would keep weapons of war and high capacity ammunition magazines that facilitate these mass killings off our streets. They'll get to vote on legislation that would help schools become safer and help people struggling with mental health problems to get the treatment that they need.

None of these ideas should be controversial. Why wouldn't we want to make it more difficult for a dangerous person to get his or her hand on a gun? Why wouldn't we want to close the loophole that allows as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases to take place without a background check? Why wouldn't we do that?

And if you ask most Americans outside of Washington, including many gun owners, some of these ideas, they don't consider them controversial. Right now, 90 percent of Americans -- 90 percent -- support background checks that will keep criminals and people who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from buying a gun. More than 80 percent of Republicans agree. More than 80 percent of gun owners agree. Think about that. How often do 90 percent of Americans agree on anything? It never happens.

Many other reforms are supported by clear majorities of Americans. And I ask every American to find out where your member of Congress stands on these ideas. If they're not part of that 90 percent who agree that we should make it harder for a criminal or somebody with a severe mental illness to buy a gun, then you should ask them, why not? Why are you part of the 10 percent?

There's absolutely no reason why we can't get this done. But the reason we're talking about it here today is because it's not done until it's done. And there are some powerful voices on the other side that are interested in running out the clock, or changing the subject, or drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all. They're doing everything they can to make all our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration or their assumption is that people will just forget about it.

I read an article in the news just the other day wondering, has Washington missed its opportunity because as time goes on after Newtown somehow people start moving on and forgetting. Let me tell you, the people here, they don't forget. Grace's dad is not forgetting. Hadiya's mom hasn't forgotten. The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown happens and we've moved on to other things? That's not who we are. That's not who we are.

And I want to make sure every American is listening today. Less than a hundred days ago that happened. And the entire country was shocked. And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and this time it would be different. Shame on us if we've forgotten. I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we've forgotten.

If there's one thing I've said consistently since I first ran for this office, nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change. And that's why it's so important that all these moms and dads are here today. But that's also why it's important that we've got grass roots groups out there that got started and are out there mobilizing and organizing and keeping up the fight. That's what it's going to take to make this country safer. It's going to take moms and dads and hunters and sportsmen and clergy and local officials like the mayors who are here today standing up and saying, this time really is different. That we're not just going to sit back and wait until the next Newtown or the next Blacksburg or the next innocent, beautiful child is gunned down in a playground in Chicago or Philadelphia or Los Angeles before we summon the will to act.

Right now, members of Congress are back home in their districts and many of them are holding event where they can hear from their constituents. So I want everybody who's listening to make yourself heard right now. If you think that checking someone's criminal record before you can check out at a gun show is common sense, you've got to make yourself heard. If you are a responsible, law-abiding gun owner who wants to keep irresponsible, law breaking individuals from abusing the right to bear arms by inflicting harm on a massive scale, speak up. We need your voices in this debate.

If you're a mom like Katarina (ph) who wants to make this country safer, a stronger place for our children to learn and grow up, get together with other moms like the ones here today and raise your voices and make yourself unmistakably heard. We need everybody to remember how we felt a hundred days ago and make sure that what we said at that time wasn't just a bunch of platitudes. That we meant it.

You know, the desire to make a difference is what brought Cory Thornblat (ph) here today. Cory grew up in Oklahoma, where her dad sold firearms at gun shows. And today she's a mom and a teacher. And Cory said that after Newtown she cried for days for the students who could have been her students, for the parents she could have known, for the teachers like her who go to work every single day and love their kids and want them to succeed. And Cory said, my heart was broken and I decided now was the time to act. To march, the time to petition, the time to make phone calls, because tears were no longer enough.

And that's my attitude. Tears aren't enough. Expressions of sympathy aren't enough. Speeches aren't enough. We've cried enough. We've known enough heart break. What we're proposing is not radical. It's not taking away anybody's gun rights. It's something that if we are serious, we will do.

Now's the time to turn that heart break into something real. It won't solve every problem. There will still be gun deaths. There will still be tragedies. There will still be violence. There will still be evil. But we can make a difference if, not just the activists here on this stage, but the general public, including responsible gun owners, say, you know what, we can do better than this. We can do better to make sure that fewer parents have to endure the pain of losing a child to an act of violence.

That's what this is about. And enough people like Katarina and Cory and the rest of the parents who are here today get involved. And if enough members of Congress take a stand for cooperation and common sense and lead and don't get squishy because time has passed and maybe it's not on the news every single day, if that's who we are, if that's our character that we're willing to follow through on commitments that we say are important, commitments to each other and to our kids, then I'm confident we can make this country a safer place for all of them. So thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. And God bless America.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama there in the East Room wrapping up. Really trying to motivate those in Congress to move forward with some sort of reform when it comes to legislation involving gun control. Having a really tough time and saying just, you know, a hundred days before a lot of people feeling the pain of Newtown. Now, you know, the latest survey show that some of that sense of urgency for gun control legislation no longer there.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: It's tragic in a way, isn't it, how it just moves on. People sort of forget about it or it reduces -- the impact is reduced over time. And now what was an urgent issue a hundred days ago is less so. And he's really battling Congress there to get anything meaningful done.

MALVEAUX: Trying to use those people and their stories to essentially push them, if he can.

HOLMES: Humanize them.

MALVEAUX: Yes. Very much true.

Well, welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

HOLMES: Yes, I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for being here. Our viewers in the U.S., indeed around the world as well.

MALVEAUX: Today marking the end of the best first quarter of the Dow since 1998.

HOLMES: Wow. Yes, have a look at the big board. Actually, we've been keeping an eye on it ourselves here. And you can see that it is up well over a quarter of a percent. Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange.

Dow up, up, and up. And I noticed earlier too the S&P hitting an intraday high. What's behind it all?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so you know what, part of the reason you're seeing stocks just, you know, sitting sort of at this trend moving higher is because some pockets of the economy, they are improving. You're seeing improvement in consumer spending, you're seeing improvement in the housing market. Not so much in the jobs market.

But what's really moving the markets higher is sheer momentum. And it's getting a big push from this continued flow of Fed stimulus money that's pushing down interest rates and sending investors to the best investment out there, and that's stocks. So that's really what's created this stellar first quarter.

And look at the returns that have come out of the first quarter. The Dow, it's up 11 percent. The Nasdaq's higher. The S&P 500, that's climbed almost 10 percent higher. And as you alluded to, Michael, the S&P 500, it just broke through its all time high. It's making history today. It broke through that all time high that was set in October of 2007. So that just sheer momentum is helping this trend of stocks moving higher as well. But remember, this is a market that moves on economic news. And any bad news could set the market back, even though when bad news has come out lately, the market seems to have shrugged it off.

Michael and Suzanne.

HOLMES: Yes, it sure has. What a run it's been. Good to see you, Alison. Alison Kosik there in New York.

KOSIK: Sure.

MALVEAUX: Want to head to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. This is where banks opened for business today. This was after a 12-day shutdown. People waiting in lines for hours to withdraw their money from their accounts. But there's a limit on how much cash they can actually get out.

HOLMES: Yes, the daily cap is about $380. Three hundred euros. The government trying to prevent, by doing that, a run on the banks, and also complying with a massive bailout deal with the European Union. Richard Quest joining us from London.

Richard, no fun being a Cypriots these days, but where does this whole situation go from here? What are the potential impacts, not just in Cyprus, but around the world?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's deal with Cyprus first.

The president of the country tweeted after the banks opened his gratitude to the people of Cyprus for what he described as their maturity and their collectiveness. They didn't all turn up to take money out of the bank. It was much more orderly than people had thought. There were, of course, security guards on hand.

And those restrictions, they say they are temporary, lasting seven days. But I've not met one economist or person or analyst who thinks that they won't be in place for many weeks, if not months. I'll buy you coffee, guys, if they actually are up in just -- in a week or so.

As for contagion, here's the really interesting thing. Everybody agrees that tiny little Cyprus can't really cause that much damage on its own. But it's the principle. Currency controls. Bail-ins (ph). Depositors having money taken out of their accounts. That's what's really worrying people elsewhere in the union.

MALVEAUX: So, Richard, tell us a little bit about -- we are seeing U.S. markets now doing pretty well. The economy here recovering.

How does that compare to what is taking place in Europe and as well as China? QUEST: There is no question that the U.S. is a sparkling diamond in an otherwise sea of excrement from the European Union in terms -- I mean, there's just no other way of putting it.

You know, the U.S. will grow roughly 1.5 percent to 2 percent. All right? Two-point-two percent perhaps. The European Union is mired in recession and is likely to remain that way.

The OECD came out with a report today pointing out that the U.S. was doing rather well. The European Union and the eurozone is the worry.

And here's the other interesting thing. 'm now going to pour water all over you, Michael and Alison's, bonhomie on the markets because the OECD also said today that markets are getting ahead of themselves.

They said markets are not representing fundamentals. And let me tell you what that means. It either means fundamentals rise or markets ...

HOLMES: Yeah, yeah.

I just can't wait for the day when we hear the Fed use that colorful term that you used, the rising sea of -- we'll leave it there.

MALVEAUX: Richard puts it as only Richard can. He gets away with it, too.

HOLMES: Exactly. Questie, good to see you.

MALVEAUX: See you, Richard.

Here is more of what we're working on for this hour. "Around the World," he's a hip-hop pioneer, of course, involved in just about everything.

That's right. We're going to talk to Russell Simmons about his plea to stop people from buying diamonds that are mined in war zones.

HOLMES: Yeah, plus, he's got a new project up his sleeve. We're going to have a chat.

Also, it is a ghost town in Japan. We'll show you brand-new pictures from inside the evacuation zone.

MALVEAUX: This is two years after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

He is a music and media mogul, a hip-hop pioneer, a cofounder of a major record label, but if that wasn't enough, Russell Simmons is also an ambassador for world peace.

MALVEAUX: He does it all. Earlier, I talked to him earlier in the year about his trip to Israel as part of a program to promote peace through spiritual dialogue.

Take a look. Here's what he said.


MALVEAUX: A pioneer in the hip-hop industry, Simmons has been actively involved in resolving what he has described as rap "beefs" between artists for 30 years.

The conflict in the Middle East, he suggests, could be handled in a similar fashion.

RUSSELL SIMMONS, FOUNDATION FOR ETHNIC UNDERSTANDING: You work out something that's fair. You start swapping territories. You make the Saudi plan work.

You have all of these support systems from all these Arab nations. You feel somewhat more comfortable in your space. You isolate Hamas.

You create relationship, a good dialogue with Abbas.

Possible, it's possible. I don't have to be a genius or political analyst or expert.


MALVEAUX: Russell Simmons joins us here in Atlanta. Russell, good to see you.

SIMMONS: Nice to see you.

MALVEAUX: As always.

Tell us why this is so important to you about your trip, your latest trip. to Israel and what you hope you bring to the table.

SIMMONS: Well, after I spoke with you, the idea of going to Israel and creating these programs, I have programs in 36 countries where imams and rabbis exchange pulpits.

And in Israel, we see the chief rabbi, Metzger, and the grand mufti of the Palestinian people and we find there are a lot of the same ideas about what peace can be, how you can forge a peaceful process.

And so we have these programs, hundreds of programs around the world, and they're very effective. It's not only that the programs promote dialogue and where people find the sameness in religion and ideology.

It's where they fight for the rights of the others, where the board of imams, North American Board of Imams, wrote so many letters to Hamas for release of the Israeli soldiers. It's where the rabbis went out and rallied.

We had "Muslim for a Day." Remember that rally? It was on the cover of the papers.


SIMMONS: They stopped the Peter King hearings.

So the Israeli population and the Palestinian population can live in peace. And I think the president going there is good. Pushing them to have dialogue is good.

And I think that if the chief rabbi and grand leader can be in agreement so there can be dialogue at least between Netanyahu and Abbas. And I think that's our job to push for that dialogue.

HOLMES: But you can solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on the back of a cocktail napkin if you were going to get serious about it.

SIMMONS: That's right.

HOLMES: The problem is that it's not about religion. It's about land and you can have the religious leaders on your side. You can have the people on your side. You've got to get ...

SIMMONS: Well, the argument over land is based in religion, isn't it? And so if you have religious leaders that agree -- well, a great part of people's perception of it is at least, right? That is why people keep it going.

And so this dialogue can ensue and it can promote peace.

HOLMES: Why hasn't it? It's been years. I started going there in the mid-'80s ...

SIMMONS: There's always why hasn't it. You know, it doesn't matter how long a room has been dark. You strike a match, it gets light just the same, right?

So we don't care about what happened in the past. I know that people are wounded and hurt people are hurt people and that process continues to cycle, but it has to stop somewhere doesn't it?

And so the president's trip, we hope, is inspiring and the dialogue between imams and rabbis. We have now 20 programs in Israel as well, not only around the world but in Israel where imams will speak.

And we've been invited to have the chief rabbi to go to the number one mosque in the Palestinian Territory. Rabbi Metzger would go. Abbas made that invitation.

So these -- this dialogue with exchanging pulpits, you'd be amazed at sophisticated people, educated, sophisticated, sweet, spiritual people don't trust the other, and when they meet the other, they find that, well, all they thought about them is wrong.

MALVEAUX: And, Russell, I want to -- you're in Atlanta and, obviously, it's for a very important cause, but you are trying to use your own business and your sense of entrepreneurship to educate and encourage others. SIMMONS: Yes. Well, yes, if I can.

MALVEAUX: Tell us a little bit about that.

SIMMONS: Well, my experience is, you know, as an entrepreneur, are ones that I like to share when I can.

And this green project in Atlanta here is one that speaking at it is inspiring to me as it does inspire the people who come to the convention.

So, yeah, I'm happy to do that. That's why I'm here in Atlanta.


SIMMONS: There's also something else. We'll talk about that some other time.

HOLMES: We were going to mention just briefly because we mentioned it before the break about the diamonds. And this is something you also continue ...

SIMMONS: Oh, it's one of my foundations. I am the chairman of the Diamond Empowerment Fund, and we underwrite education in places where diamonds are a natural resource.

And the diamond industry has been very supportive of that and, especially since the "Blood Diamond" movie, they were very supportive and millions and millions of dollars, going back to education and beneficiation of the people in the countries where the diamonds are a natural resource. So that's one of the things that we do.

HOLMES: Ongoing problem and a lot more awareness now.

MALVEAUX: You do a little bit of everything.

SIMMONS: A lot of smart people around me.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, absolutely.

And, we're, of course, going to talk to you more as well in the next hour because Russell Simmons outspoken on major social issues of the day, including the same-sex marriage debate that is playing out before the Supreme Court.

Russell Simmons, thank you so much for joining us.

SIMMONS: A pleasure.

MALVEAUX: Appreciate it.

HOLMES: All right, well, Nelson Mandela, meanwhile, is in hospital for the second time this month.

We've got a live report from South Africa up next, check on his condition. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back to "Around the World."

We're going to take you now to South Africa. The country's beloved former president, Nelson Mandela, in hospital for the second time in a month.

MALVEAUX: He was admitted overnight because of a reoccurring lung infection.

Now the office of South African President Jacob Zuma put out a statement asking for the world to pray for him.

Robyn Curnow, she's following developments from Johannesburg.

And, Robyn, the last time, I was there it was in October. A lot of people were very worried about his health because he had been in the hospital before.

What do we know about this go-round?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Nelson Mandela's health has been steadily declining, many South Africans acute ...


... worrying many because officials here saying that he was taken to hospital late Wednesday night.