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President Obama Announces New Program; Russian Roulette

Aired February 27, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama may insist that the U.S. is not in a chess game with Russia, but Vladimir Putin sure is moving a lot of pieces around the board.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, a Russian warship docking in Cuba, Russian troops amassing on the border with Ukraine, Russian flags flying at key Ukrainian government posts. We will ask our guest, Senator John McCain, is Putin is planning something and thumbing his nose at the U.S. all at once?

The national lead. It's going to be a lot harder to avoid the calorie count on that huge jar of -- huge bottle of soda, the first lady announcing new labels on the food we buy. But will it change what we Americans shovel into our mouths even one bit?

And the buried lead. Is your Webcam actually a surveillance can? A new report says a foreign government might be snooping on your hard drive and what have they found, other than naughty selfies?

President Obama speaking at the White House right now, and we will come back with THE LEAD when he is done.




OBAMA: To help young boys at risk of dropping out of school.

Today it serves thousands of students in dozens of schools, as mayor of New York, Mayor Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg, who's here today, started a young man's initiative for African-American and Latino boys because he understood that in order for America to compete, we need to make it easier for all our young people to do better in the classroom and find a job once they graduate.

A bipartisan group of mayors called Cities United has made this issue a priority in communities across the country. Senator Mike Lee, a leader of the Tea Party, has been working with Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from my home state of Illinois, to reduce disparities in our criminal justice system that have hit the African-American and Latino communities especially hard. So I want to thank everybody who's been doing incredible work, many of the people who are here today, including members of Congress, who, you know, have been focused on this and are moving the needle in their communities and around the country.

They understand that giving every young person who's willing to work hard a shot at opportunity should not be a partisan issue. Yes, we need to train our workers, invest in our schools, make college more affordable, and government has a role to play, and, yes, we need to encourage fathers to stick around and remove the barriers to marriage and talk openly about things like responsibility and faith and community.

In the words of Dr. King, it is not either/or. It is both/and. And, you know, if I can if I can persuade, you know, Sharpton and O'Reilly to be in the same meeting...



OBAMA: ... then it means that there are people of good faith who want to get some stuff done, even if we don't agree on everything, and that's our focus.

While there may not be much of an appetite in Congress for sweeping new programs or major new initiatives right now, we all know we can't wait. And so the good news is, folks in the private sector, who know how important boosting the achievement of young men of color is to this country, they are ready to step up.

Today, I'm pleased to announce that some of the most forward-looking foundations in America are looking to invest at least $200 million over the next five years, on top of the $150 million that they have already invested, to test which strategies are working for our kids and expand them in cities across the country.


OBAMA: Many of these folks have been on the front lines in this fight for a long time. And what's more, they're joined by business leaders, corporate leaders, entrepreneurs who are stepping forward to support this effort as well.

And my administration is going to do its part. So, today, after my remarks are done, I'm going to pen this presidential memorandum directing the federal government not to spend more money, but to do things smarter, to determine what we can do right now to improve the odds for boys and young men of color, and make sure our agencies are working more effectively with each other, with those businesses, with those philanthropies and with local communities to implement proven solutions.

And part of what makes this initiative so promising is that we actually know what works, and we know when it works. What do I mean by that? Over the years, we have identified key moments in the life of a boy or a young man of color that will more often than not determine whether he succeeds or falls through the cracks.

We know this -- we know the data. We know the statistics. And if we can focus on those key moments, those life-changing points in their lives, you can have a big impact, you can boost the odds for more of our kids.

First of all, we know that during the first three years of life, a child born into a low-income family hears 30 million fewer words than a child born into a well-off family. And everybody knows, babies are sponges. They just soak that up.

A 30 million-word deficit is hard to make up. And if a black or Latino kid isn't ready for kindergarten, he's half as likely to finish middle school with strong academic and social skills. So, by giving more of our kids access to high-quality early education and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their children succeed, we can give more kids a better shot at the career they're capable of and the life that will make us all better off.

So, that's point number one right at the beginning. Point number two, if a child can't read well by the time he's in third grade, he's four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19 than one who can. And if he happens to be poor, he's six times less likely to graduate.

So, by boosting reading levels, we can help more of our kids make the grade, keep on advancing, reach that day that so many parents dream of until it comes close, and then you start tearing up. And that's when they're walking across the stage holding that high school diploma.

Number three, we know that Latino kids are almost twice as likely as white kids to be suspended from school. Black kids are nearly four times as likely. And if a student has been suspended even once by the time they are in ninth grade, they are twice as likely to drop out.

That's why my administration has been working with schools on alternatives to the so-called zero-tolerance guidelines, not because teachers or administrators or fellow students should have to put up with bad behavior, but because there are ways to modify bad behavior that lead to good behavior, as opposed to bad behavior out of school.

We can make classes good places for learning for everybody without jeopardizing a child's future.


OBAMA: And by building on that work, we can keep more of our young men where they belong, in the classroom, learning, growing, gaining the skills they need to succeed.

Number four, we know that students of color are far more likely than their white classmates to find themselves in trouble with the law. If a student gets arrested, he's almost as likely to drop out of school. By making sure our criminal justice system doesn't just function as a pipeline for underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, we can help young men of color stay out of prison, stay out of jail. And that means then they're more likely to be employable and to invest in their own families and to pass on a legacy of love and hope. And, finally, we know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be disconnected, not in school, not in working.

We have got to reconnect them. We have got to give more of these young men access to mentors. We have got to continue to encourage responsible fatherhood. We have got to provide more pathways to apply to college or find a job.

We can keep them from falling through the cracks and help them lay a foundation for a career and a family and a better life. In the discussion before we came in, General Powell talked about the fact that there are going to be some kids who just don't have a family at home that is functional, no matter how hard we try.

But just an adult, any adult who's paying attention can make a difference. Any adult who cares can make a difference.

Magic was talking about being in a school in Chicago and, rather than going to the school, he brought the school to the company, Allstate, that was doing the work, and, suddenly, just that one conversation meant these young men saw something different. A world opened up for them.

It doesn't take that much, but it takes more than we're doing now. And that's what My Brother's Keeper is all about, helping more of our younger people to stay on track, providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future, building on what works, when it works, in those critical life-changing moments.

And when I say, by the way, building on what works, it means looking at the actual evidence of what works. There are a lot of programs out there that sound good, are well-intentioned, well-inspired, but they're not actually having an impact.

We don't have enough money or time or resources to invest in things that don't work, so we have got to be pretty hard-headed about saying, if something's not working, let's stop doing it. Let's do things that work.

And we shouldn't care whether it was a Democratic program or a Republican program or a faith-based program or -- if it works, we should support it. If it doesn't, we shouldn't, and all the time recognizing that my neighbor's child is my child, that each of us has an obligation to give every child the same chance this country gave so many of us.

So, in closing, let me just say this. None of this is going to be easy. This is not a one-year proposition. It's not a two-year proposition. It's going to take time. We're dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society, and are entrenched in our minds.

And addressing these issues will have to be a two-way bargain, because no matter how much the community chips in, it's ultimately going to be up to these young men and all the young men who are out there to step up and seize responsibility for their own lives.


OBAMA: And that's why I want to close by speaking directly to the young men who are here today and all the boys and young men who are watching at home.

Part of my message, part of our message in this initiative is, no excuses. Government and private sector and philanthropy and all the faith communities, we all have a responsibility to help you provide the tools you need. We got to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience.

That's what we're here for. But you have got responsibilities too. And I know you can meet the challenge, and many of you already are, if you make the effort. It may be hard, but you will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society's lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future.

It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up or settle into the stereotype. It's not going to happen overnight, but you're going to have to set goals, and you're going to have to work for those goals. Nothing will be given to you.

The world is tough out there, and there's a lot of competition for jobs and college positions. And everybody has to work hard. But I know you guys can succeed. We got young men up here who are starting to make those good choices, because somebody stepped in and gave them a sense of how they might go about it.

And I know it can work because of men like Maurice Owens, who's here today.

I want to tell Moe's story just real quick. When Moe was 4 years old, he moved with his mom, Chavette (ph), from South Carolina to the Bronx. And his mom didn't have a lot of money, and they lived in a tough neighborhood. Crime was high. A lot of young men ended up in jail or worse.

But she knew the importance of education. So she got Moe into the best elementary school that she could find. And, every morning, she put him on a bus. Every night, she welcomed him when he came home. She took the initiative. She eventually found a sponsorship program that allowed Moe to attend a good high school.

And while many of his friends got into trouble, some of it pretty serious, Mo just kept getting on the bus and kept working hard and reaching for something better. And he had some adults in his life who were willing to give him advice and help him along the way. And he ended up going to college and he ended up serving his country in the Air Force.

And today, Moe works in the White House, just two doors down from the Oval Office as the special assistant to my chief of staff. And --


And Moe never misses a chance to tell kids who grew up just like he did that if he can make it, they can, too. Moe and his mom are here today.

So, I want to thank them both for this incredible experience. Stand up, Mo, and show off your mom there.


Good job, Moe.


So, Moe didn't make excuses. His mom had high expectations.

America needs more citizens like Moe. We need more young men like Christian. We will beat the odds.

We need to give every child, no matter what they look like, where they live, a chance to reach their full potential, because if we do, if we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated hard-working good citizens. Then, not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass the lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren. We'll start a different cycle. And this country will be richer and stronger for it for generations to come. So let's get going.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.


TAPPER: We've been watching a special speech from the White House. President Obama revealing the details of a new program called My Brother's Keeper. It's an initiative that will invest $200 million in a partnership with businesses and nonprofits in order to try to offer more opportunities to young black and Hispanic men.

It comes two years ago to the week that Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, was gunned down by George Zimmerman, in a case that's still causing arguments all over America, a case that President Obama spoke out about at a time.

What does that case have to do with My Brother's Keeper? Well, the president ordered his staff to develop this initiative, specifically in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Today, Martin's parents were in the crowd for the announcement.

Let's talk about this with chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Gloria, I'll start with you.

There was a very compelling story I read in Yahoo yesterday, Yahoo News, about President Obama at a Father's Day meeting with a bunch of young fatherless men, young black men from Chicago, who came to the Oval Office. He had been working with them before. The program is called BAM, Becoming a Man.

They all signed a Father's Day card for him and they handed it to him. They said they never signed a Father's Day card because they don't have Father's Day -- fathers. President Obama said he had never signed a Father's Day card either.

That really is the root of a lot of the problems here.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. And I think this is kind of the most emotional, raw, real President Obama that you'll ever see. I mean, this is -- this is someone who clearly identifies with these young men who don't have a father, who feel kind of left out there alone and he had a very clear message to them, which is, no excuses, set goals, work hard.

This is a president who once compared himself to Trayvon, you know.

TAPPER: He said, if I had a son --

BORGER: Sorry. If I had a son, he would be Trayvon.

He said, look, I'm like you. I made my excuses. I sold myself short when I was your age.

He talked about the young man on the president's staff.

So, I think this is something, when you look at the president, he's saying, look, I'm you. I was you. And here am I and what can I do for you other than to tell you, you can be like me.

I mean, it's sort of the ultimate role modeling that we can -- that we can ever see.

TAPPER: And our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta on the north lawn of the White House.

Jim, President Obama has been criticized from many members of the African-American community to not do more about black unemployment, black teenage unemployment, which I believe is more than 35 percent. He is wading into these issues perhaps slowly but this is definitely a second-term move by him.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And interesting that you mentioned that, Jake, because White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about this during the briefing and Jay Carney made a point by saying that the president has been working on this issue throughout his presidency, not just in the second term. So, they are sensitive to that criticism.

But I have to agree with Gloria. This was one of the most emotional moments that we've seen from President Obama. He's been called no drama Obama, but this dealt with a lot of the drama that was a part of his childhood, and growing up -- growing up without a father, experimenting with dope. He talked about that during his remarks.

And interesting to note, Jake, that this is basically the limit of what the president can do in the second term. He knows that a lot of his agenda is not going to get passed on Capitol Hill. So, he signs an executive order directing the administration to find out what works, what doesn't work when it comes to at-risk youth.

And this is a part of his convening authority, bringing together like- minded individuals to advance his agenda -- Jake.

TAPPER: And someone who covers these issues a lot for CNN is our own Don Lemon. He is in the East Room of the White House right now.

Don, you've been covering this all day. Tell us what you've seen that's surprised you.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm actually glad the president finally said it. As you said, I've been covering these issues and I do cover them, I get emotional about them because it's important to me as a young, black man.

And I talk about these things, get a lot of criticism for them but the president finally, finally said something that has been the elephant in the room for a long time and especially among African-Americans.

Yes, we know there's institutional racism. We know there is systematic racism and we need to do something about that.

But there's also personal responsibility that he talked about with these young men saying, ultimately, I can get all of the philanthropic help for you, all the money in the world for you, but none of it matters unless, unless you do it. You cannot make any more excuses. You have to do what the young man Mo did that he introduced at the end -- just before he signed this memorandum.

You have to get on that bus every day, regardless of your circumstances. No matter where you live. If you live in the Bronx, you may live in Compton, whatever it is, you have to do it.

But I'm glad he said as well that young black men, or young men of color end up at the bottom of the wrung, for whatever reason, whatever reason, racism, the parent, the dad may not be in the home, they may not have money. Whatever it is, it may be their own fault because they don't do the work. But whatever it is, that it need to be addressed. And he is addressing it.

And finally, I think that he is passionate about this particular issue. He mentioned Trayvon Martin. His parents are in the room. Jordan Davis' parents are in the room.

He's passionate about this and by taking this on as an initiative, as he has promised to do, even beyond his presidency, he can take the politics out of it and he doesn't have to worry about some conservative or someone who maybe a bigot or racist saying, hey, why don't you do things for white people? You are the president of everybody.

We get that. We get that he's the president of everybody but he also has a responsibility as a black man to help that from which he came and that's the black community and the people who helped get him in the office and who stood by him the most and the people who deserve to lose -- the people who will lose the most if he doesn't do that, if he doesn't help young, black men, they will lose the most because who knows when we will have someone like a President Obama, another man of color in the White House who understands the plight of being a black man in America.

It was amazing. It was emotional, and it was the most candid I've seen the president in a while, except for back in July when he talked -- when he spoke during the whole ordeal with Trayvon Martin and with George Zimmerman.

I have to say, though, I think that changed him and I also think that meeting with these young men in Chicago changed him as well, because he said, I sat there and I saw myself in them. And you heard him in the press conference now saying, and I told them, I got high. I would get high and I didn't -- regardless of the circumstances, I didn't know the circumstances of how it would be a detriment to me. I didn't always take my schoolwork, you know, as seriously as I should have.

And I think what struck him is that he had never really spent any time with his father. And when those kids from BAM, that organization in Chicago, the one that Christian is from, the one who introduced him, those men came to the White House. He met with them in February in Chicago. They came back to the White House in July around Father's Day.

And unbeknownst to the mentor who brought them here, the kids went out and bought the president a Father's Day card. And they signed it. And they said -- one of them said to them -- or many of them said, I had never signed a Father's Day card in my life.

And the president said, I had never signed a Father's Day card in my life as well. I think that was a moment for him. That's why he's making it his initiative.

TAPPER: Let's listen to some of the remarks that President Obama made that you're talking about.


OBAMA: I explained to them that when I was their age, I was a lot like them. I didn't have a dad in the house. And I was angry about it even though I didn't necessarily realize it at the time.

I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could lead. I didn't always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.


TAPPER: Don, I have heard some criticism from African-Americans, specifically some academics in the African-American community who say, this is a nice speech, mentoring is fine, but a lot more needs to be done to help the people in the underclass, whether African-American, Hispanic, or white. LEMON: I've heard that. And I hear people when you talk about these issues and you're honest about them, people will call the president, oh, he's doing the respectability in politics. Who gives a damn about that?

Listen, you take it where you can get it. Maybe the president -- maybe it was a little too late. Maybe he was a day late. But he's definitely not a dollar short if he's going to do what he says he's going to do. You take it where you can get it.

So, fine, go ahead, criticize the president. Maybe he should have done more. Maybe he was constrained in ways that most of us don't understand because we're not sitting behind a desk. We're not in that seat so we don't know.

So I'm going to reserve my criticism of him for now. I have done that before in my reporting. I've talked about the issues.

Everything that the president said today, I have said on the air and have gotten criticized for it. And I've been called an Uncle Tom and a sellout and I don't understand racism and I'm not black anymore. And ridiculous things, and even racist by white people for talking about those issues. Who cares?

I would tell those academics to shut up. What my parents used to say is, my dad who was not an educated man, who had a high school education, he would call them educated fools. He would say, some people are born with a lot of smarts and they can get all of these degrees but they don't have commonsense.

So, now, that we are here in this particular place where the president has decided that he's going to do something about it, let's meet him where he is and push him to continue to do more or to keep his promise and stop criticizing him because what is done is done. He didn't do it then. In your estimation, he's doing it now. So now, help him and praise him rather than criticizing him.

TAPPER: And, Don, one of the things -- and I want to get Jim Acosta and Gloria Borger into this.

One of the things that's inescapable was yes, President Obama has talked about these issues before. Specifically on Father's Day -- for years, he's gone before black churches and talked about the importance of a father in young African-American families, especially in urban environments.

But I think it's inescapable that he was more reticent on these issues in the first term than in the second term. And again, there are reasons for that and you don't want to be seen as the African-American president. You want to be seen as the president of the United States but I think we are seeing a certain freedom that the president is expressing today in terms of what he wants to talk about, Don.

LEMON: Yes, are you talking to me?

TAPPER: Yes. LEMON: But, Jake, he is the African-American president. He's an African-American president. He's a president of all people but, again, he has a responsibility as president to help everyone but he is a black man.

And as I said, he understands the issues that we as African-Americans face more than any other president that we have had. You know, we used to call Bill Clinton the first black president, but I mean, in reality, we know that -- we know that was just sort of fun.

But, yes, I think he has more of a freedom. And his -- listen, in his first term he didn't do that much about, you know, gay rights, about gay marriage, whatever, and it started happening in the second term. I said in the beginning that that issue would be a second term issue.

He had to prove himself in the beginning. He had probably more criticism than most presidents because when you are the first of anything, there is a bigger responsibility put on you. He's a spectacle in a way. Everyone is being looking to hit him and everyone is looking to punch him.