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Chicago Becomes Exhibit A For Both Sides In The Gun Control Debate

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — One evening in late August, not three blocks from President Barack Obama’s Chicago home, someone in a passing car pulled up to a silver Volkswagen and fired several shots through the driver’s side window, killing the driver.

The suspected gang shooting happened close to a playground, an elementary school and a high school, where football practice was wrapping up for the night.

The crime terrified Obama’s old neighbors and highlighted just how closely the problem of gun violence hits for the president as it rages unabated in Chicago. Obama’s home city is at the center of a debate about the effectiveness of the kinds of gun laws the president backs.

Critics say the stream of deadly shootings are proof that gun laws don’t work, given the tough stance Chicago officials adopted toward gun ownership in the 1980s and 1990s.

But Obama’s team believes that Chicago, with its 408 homicides so far this year, is evidence of the need for exactly what he’s pushing: national laws that make it harder to get around the local restrictions simply by driving across a state or city line.

“It’s the patchwork of laws that doesn’t serve us,” said one Obama adviser. “People just go to other jurisdictions with looser laws.”

Obama will talk about the need for tougher gun laws with police chiefs gathered in Chicago on Tuesday, aides say, as part of a broader conversation about violence and how police can work more effectively with their communities to combat it.

He’s traveling to Chicago because that’s the site of the annual gathering of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, but advisers say he’s well aware of the symbolism in returning to his hometown amid this debate.

Chicago has long been a battleground for both pro- and anti-gun forces. Three decades ago, in the wake of the assassination attempts on President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, the City Council banned new sales and registration of handguns in 1982. Chicago was the first major city to take that step.

Now, with Obama renewing his rhetoric about more gun control in the wake of massacres at a church in South Carolina and a community college in Oregon, and considering imposing gun safety rules by executive order, critics once again are pointing to the president’s hometown for proof of the folly.

Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie have talked about gun deaths in Chicago in arguing against the need for stricter gun-safety laws.

“You look at Chicago, it’s got the toughest gun laws in the United States,” Trump told ABC News this month. “You look at other places where they have gun laws that are very tough, they do, generally speaking, worse than anybody else.”

The argument isn’t as clear-cut as the candidates make it. Although the City Council drew attention for its strict gun laws in the 1980s, the Supreme Court decided in 2010 that Chicago’s handgun ban violated the Second Amendment.

Academics have never conclusively proved a causal relationship between tougher gun laws and lower crime rates, though nationwide surveys conducted by gun control groups strongly suggest one.

That’s enough for the president to conclude that tougher laws are worth a try, but not enough for skeptics who think it doesn’t merit government intrusion into private gun ownership.
Chicago offers evidence for both sides.

For gun control advocates, Illinois is something of a model. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave Illinois a B-plus grade in 2014 for its laws, behind only a handful of states with tougher regulations.

But at the same time, Chicago has seen a spike in violence, inspiring the nickname “Chi-raq.” The city has recorded almost as many homicides so far this year as it did in all of last year. In August alone, the month that the suspected gang shooting occurred near the president’s home, there were 54 homicides.

“Chicago just does not look like a good case study for gun control,” said Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University Law School who researches and writes on the subject. “That’s a reality that all who support gun control proposals have to keep in mind. The world is permeable.”

But for Obama’s neighbors, including the lawmaker who took his seat in the Illinois Senate, the Chicago ordinances and Illinois laws never had a chance to work because of the city’s proximity to states with much laxer laws. The city is within a two-hour drive of Milwaukee, and Gary, Ind., is so close it is practically a suburb. Their states earned a C-minus and D-minus for their gun laws, respectively.

In fact, about 60 percent of the guns associated with crimes in Chicago come from out of state, according to Chicago Police Department statistics. Mississippi, with an F on the score card, is another source.

“You can pass all the laws you want, but if people can just drive to Indiana, Wisconsin and Mississippi, it doesn’t make a difference if nothing is done at the federal level,” said state Sen. Kwame Raoul.

On Raoul’s street, not far from the Obama family home, there have been two shootings in the last two months. He is so worried about the safety of his teenagers that he doesn’t let them walk anywhere. He drives them.

When he travels to Springfield, the capital, to debate the subject with lawmakers from around the state, however, he worries about the overemphasis on urban violence. In a recent debate about the heroin problem seeping out of cities and into rural areas, he drew a parallel to gun violence.

“These problems don’t remain quarantined,” Raoul said. “They are coming to your community, too.”

Skeptics such as Kontorovich agree that borders governing gun laws are porous, but they question whether another layer of laws or executive orders will make any difference.

“The reality is that state and local borders are permeable,” Kontorovich said. “But national licensing laws will only regulate the legal market, not the black market.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Obama Lays Out New Climate-Change Plan

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama declared his new carbon plan “the single most important step” the country can take to fight global climate change as he tried Monday to anticipate and rebut arguments from critics about harm his vision could do to American business.

Speaking in personal terms about his days at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Obama recalled the smog that made it hard to breathe when he went out for a run and the people who had to stay inside on especially bad days.

“You fast-forward 30, 40 years later, and we solved those problems,” he said. “At the time, the same time, the same characters who are going to be criticizing this plan were saying this is going to kill jobs.

“Despite those scaremongering tactics,” he said, “you can actually run in Los Angeles without choking.”

Obama said he was going “off script” on the remembrances, underscoring the personal importance he attaches to this key piece of his ambitious second-term agenda. The new regulations are designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants by 32 percent between 2005 and 2030, through new regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency administrator insists are “within the four corners” of the Clean Air Act.

Obama said the new regulations were the most significant step “America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.”

But Republicans and business leaders were already vowing to fight him. They say Obama’s clean power plan is part of a radical environmental agenda that comes at the expense of the American people. It could heap billions of dollars in added costs while shifting away from natural gas as a reliable and clean power source, said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

“To the president, appeasing a fringe environmental movement has overtaken the more responsible path to grow our economy,” said McCarthy, vowing that the House will “consider every option possible to fight it.”

The plan would boost efforts already underway in California and other coastal states to increase the use of renewable power. But for mostly Republican-led parts of the country still heavily reliant on coal, the rules would force a major economic transition that many elected officials pledge to resist.

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the Clean Power Plan at an event in the East Room of the White House Aug. 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

U.S. And Cuba Agree To Open Embassies, Restore Diplomatic Relations

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — After 50 years of diplomatic standoff, the U.S. and Cuba plan to announce Wednesday that they will establish formal diplomatic relations and open embassies in each other’s capitals, a senior U.S. administration official said.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry plan to address the decision publicly on Wednesday, as the two nations move to open the door to a new relationship of trade, travel and tourism.

The announcement follows months of talks between the two countries, after a historic decision in December by both that they would release prisoners as a good-faith move toward melting their Cold War freeze.

All spring, negotiators from both sides have been talking about sending ambassadors, lifting restrictions on diplomatic personnel and opening the way to financial and technological deals.

On Tuesday, senior advisers to Obama said the conversations had gone well and that the two sides were now prepared for the much more serious commitment of opening embassies.

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Day Donaldson via Flicrk

At Summit, Obama Calls For Tough Stance Against Russia

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

TELFS, Austria — As President Barack Obama went into a summit of world leaders in the Alps on Sunday, he made a promise over beer and wurst with Bavarian villagers to take a tough stance against Russian intervention in neighboring territories.

One of his top priorities at the summit, he told hundreds of people in a town square in Germany, is “standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

Gathering as the Group of Seven for the second time since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region, though, the heads of government were focused more on holding their current line than in taking any new stands against President Vladimir Putin, the disinvited guest of their annual summit.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called for sanctions against Russia to be renewed. European Council President Donald Tusk urged leaders to “re-confirm the G-7 unity” on sanctions.

And while Obama voiced his support for tougher sanctions, advisors to the president emphasized instead the importance of maintaining the status quo.

“Ultimately it will be up to the Europeans to make those decisions,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “We’re hopeful that they’ll do so, keeping in mind our shared view that preserving this unity is really important.”

“I don’t see any change in policy on Ukraine, nor do I see Ukraine fatigue,” said Charles Kupchan, Obama’s senior director for European Affairs. “We’ve always said that we favor and are pushing toward a diplomatic settlement to the crisis.”

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Putin seemed to thumb his nose at the concerns of the U.S. and European allies, saying that “only an insane person . . . can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO.”

The White House brushed off the comments, with Earnest insisting that the G-7 leaders care only about how Russia has “essentially thumbed their nose” at cease-fire commitments in Ukraine.

Russia maintains that it has no direct involvement in the Ukrainian fighting.

Though the G-7 was originally formed to talk about economic issues, security concerns linger over all of their recent gatherings, especially since the expulsion of Russia from their ranks. The move was meant to isolate Putin and make clear the concerns of the member nations – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

During their Sunday sessions, Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced support for full implementation of the Ukraine cease-fire plan, which was forged in February but has been violated repeatedly.

Merkel is against providing arms to the Ukrainian government out of concern that the weapons would only serve to inflame the war. Obama shares that concern, Earnest said.

Before Obama went into the afternoon of meetings, he started his day with a visit to the village of Kruen, Germany, where he drank a beer and spoke to a crowd of local residents, many of them wearing dirndls or lederhosen.

He forgot to pack his lederhosen, Obama joked, but would look into buying a pair while he was in town.

Peace can happen, he told them.

“The fact that all of us are here together today,” Obama said, “is proof that conflicts can end and great progress is possible.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

File Photo: Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine. AFP Photo/ Philippe Desmazes

Biden Tries To Mollify Iraqis, Promises Training And Equipment

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden called Iraq’s prime minister Monday to try to smooth over a rough exchange of words between the two governments after the fall of important cities to Islamic State militants in recent days.

In his call with Prime Minister Haider Abadi, Biden paid respects to “the enormous sacrifice and bravery” of Iraqi fighters over the past 18 months of fighting, particularly around Ramadi, in western Iraq, according to a White House account of the call. Ramadi and Palmyra, in Syria, both fell to the militant group over the last week.

The vice president’s soft words followed much harsher ones from Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who said on Sunday that Iraqi forces lacked a “will to fight” and had failed in Ramadi even though they had superior numbers.

While Biden praised the Iraqi fighters in his phone call, he also reiterated the critical points of President Barack Obama’s plan for assisting the Iraqi government. The United States stands ready to help by providing training and equipment, he said, according to the White House account.

The administration has insisted in recent days that Obama is not looking to send U.S. military forces to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, an approach that some Republicans have advocated. Carter on Sunday defended Obama’s approach.

Obama traveled to Arlington National Cemetery on Monday to pay respects to military service members on Memorial Day. In his remarks, the president noted that this Memorial Day is “the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end.”

“Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war,” he said.

“Most Americans don’t fully see, don’t fully understand the sacrifice made by the 1 percent who serve in this all-volunteer armed forces_a sacrifice that preserves the freedoms we too often take for granted,” Obama said. “Few know what it’s like to take a bullet for a buddy, or to live with the fact that he or she took one for you.”

“It is a debt we can never fully repay, but it is a debt we will never stop trying to fully repay,” he said.

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

File photo: April 24, 2010, Iraq’s Day of Commitment. The ceremony was hosted by the Iraqi government at Al Faw Palace, in Baghdad, as U.S. forces continued to draw out of Iraq. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, took the opportunity to thank U.S. and Iraqi service members for all of their sacrifices that led to the end of an almost decade long war. Photo by Staff Sgt. Caleb Barrieau. Via Flickr

U.S. Defense Secretary Says Iraqis Need ‘Will To Fight’ To Defeat Islamic State

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration intensified its defense of the president’s strategy against the Islamic State group, with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter making a vigorous case that the terrorist group can be defeated only if the Iraqis “develop the will to fight.”

After Islamic State victories in the Iraqi city of Ramadi and in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra last week, Carter fended off suggestions that it’s time to position U.S. ground troops and troop air controllers near the trouble spots to contain the Islamic State.

Local officials and fighters must take responsibility, he said.

“They are the ones that have to beat ISIL and keep them beat,” Carter said on CNN’s State of the Union, using the government’s preferred acronym for the group. “We can participate in the defeat of ISIL but we can’t make Iraq run as a decent place for people to live. We can’t sustain the victory; only the Iraqis can do that.”

The U.S. role in the turbulent region might change at some point, Carter acknowledged.

But the fall of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, shows a need for the U.S. to help improve the Iraqis’ equipment and training while “encouraging their will to fight so that our campaign enabling them can be successful.” Carter said.

In recent days, Republicans have raised questions about the effectiveness of the direction President Barack Obama is giving his military and about whether U.S. commanders on the ground are adequately empowered in the discussions.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) expressed the frustrations of several colleagues on Sunday when he complained that Obama hasn’t outlined a clear path to containing the militants as they try to set up an Islamic caliphate in the region.

“There is no strategy,” McCain said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “And anybody that says that there is I’d like to hear what it is. Because it certainly isn’t apparent now.”

Obama’s decision to pull troops out of Iraq after years of war was the wrong call, he said, arguing that the effectiveness of the 2007 surge of military troops in Iraq was dismantled when Obama withdrew ground troops from Iraq.

“We had before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week two architects of the surge that won,” said McCain, chairman of that committee. “And we did have it won, until the decision was made to withdraw all troops.”

Hakim Zamili, the head of Iraq’s parliamentary defense and security committee, disagreed with the U.S. on why Ramadi was lost. The U.S. failed to give “good equipment, weapons and aerial support” at Ramadi and is now seeking to “throw the blame on somebody else,” he told the Associated Press.

Carter argued that the Iraqis lost a fight where they “vastly outnumbered the opposing force.”

They “failed to fight and withdrew from the site,” he said. “That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves. Now we can give them training, we can give them equipment, we obviously can’t give them the will to fight.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Image via Google Maps

Obama Vows No Bad Deal With Iran: ‘This Deal Will Have My Name On It’

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama took his case for nuclear talks with Iran to a local synagogue Friday where he promised he would not make a bad deal with the Islamic Republic in part because he wouldn’t want to bear the shame.

“This deal will have my name on it,” Obama said, “so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure that it delivers on its promise.

“I want a good deal,” he said, adding he will only agree to terms that would block all of Iran’s paths to nuclear weapons capability and secure it with rigorous inspections revealing any violations of the agreement.

Despite his optimism over the prospects for talks, Obama said that he isn’t guaranteeing a deal will be reached and that he keeps “all options” open for deterring Iran from building a nuclear weapon — a veiled reference to the possibility of airstrikes.

But whatever comes, Obama said, the enduring American friendship with the people of Israel “cannot be broken.”

The remarks reflected Obama’s need to build political support for any possible Iran deal he sends to Congress, an effort that will depend heavily on how the American Jewish community views it.

The visit to Adas Israel Congregation, one of the largest congregations in the area, coincided with an international “Solidarity Shabbat,” in which elected officials in Europe and North America attend services to show opposition to anti-Semitism.

The display is especially important for Obama in a year when his decision to negotiate with Iran, a regime with leaders who periodically call for the destruction of Israel, has discomfited many Jewish leaders.

In an interview prior to the Friday visit, Obama talked at length with Atlantic magazine writer Jeffrey Goldberg about his deep personal attachments to Israel, his reverence for its founding values and his commitment to protecting Israel in any policy decisions he makes.

Republican critics voice skepticism about the outcome of the talks. As lawmakers passed a measure giving Congress the right to review and reject any deal with Iran, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the goal was to stop a bad agreement, especially if it could “strengthen and legitimize the government of Iran.”

In his remarks Friday, Obama insisted that any success in the nuclear talks will not erase U.S. concerns about other Iranian activity, especially its support for terrorism, moves to destabilize the region and threats against Israel.

When people say that disagreements with Israeli leaders on policy reveal a lack of respect for Israel itself, Obama said, “I must object.”

True friends don’t “paper over” difficult issues, he said, pointing to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as an example.

He supports a two-state solution, for two people living side-by-side in peace and security, “precisely because I care so much about the state of Israel,” he said.

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at Adas Israel Congregation in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month, on Friday May 22, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Aude Guerrucci/Sipa USA/TNS)

Obama Warns Of Threat That Climate Change Poses To National Security

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

NEW LONDON, Conn. — President Barack Obama warned Wednesday that climate change poses an “immediate risk to our national security” so significant that U.S. military forces will have to adjust how they train and operate.

In a speech to the graduating class of cadets at the Coast Guard Academy here, Obama noted the dangers of rising sea levels that threaten health and safety in coastal areas and pointed to volatile new storm systems, droughts, and wildfires that endanger the rest of the world.

“This is not just a problem for countries on the coast or for certain regions of the world,” he said. “Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and make no mistake: It will impact how our military defends our country.

“We need to act,” Obama said, “and we need to act now.”

The call to action comes as Obama pursues a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The White House hopes to close an ambitious deal with sweeping goals at a December summit in Paris.

Crucial to that push is a good-faith display by the U.S. to cut its own emissions. Obama wants the country to cut greenhouse gases dramatically over the next decade.

In his address to the new class of Coast Guard officers, Obama made a sales pitch for his climate agenda: that national and global security depend on it.

It’s a strategy that he has employed recently in an effort to sell his trade and economic policies, as he argues that U.S. security depends in part on building new and strong commercial and financial ties to the rest of the world.

The argument is based on the world’s common problem of climate change and related security concerns.

Drought and famine have made basic resources like food and water scarce, leading to instability around the world, he said. Violent storms force people from their homes.

The stakes, Obama argued Wednesday, are high.

Denying climate change or refusing to deal with it undermines American readiness, he said.

“We cannot and must not ignore a peril that can affect generations,” Obama said, noting that some in Washington don’t believe in taking action to deal with climate change.

Scientists know it’s happening, Obama said, and “the Coast Guard knows it’s happening.”

Climate change poses a threat to the readiness of American forces, he said, ticking off floods at bases in Norfolk, Va., damage from thawing permafrost at military facilities in Alaska and the possibility of extensive droughts and wildfires threatening training areas in the West.

For its part, the Pentagon is assessing the vulnerability of more than 7,000 military bases, installations, and other facilities around the world as a result of climate change.

The departments of Defense and Homeland Security have been studying how to deal with the security implications of melting sea ice in the Arctic.

If the military is taking steps to deal with climate change, said one member of Congress, it should inspire others to do the same.

“Our military takes the world as it is, not as ideologues would hope it to be,” said Representative Ted W. Lieu (D-CA), a veteran. “Our nonpartisan military is telling the American public that climate change is real, it is happening, and we must act.”

Obama urged the officers to embrace the challenge before them.

“You are part of the first generation of officers to begin your service in a world where the effects of climate change are so clearly upon us,” he told the graduating cadets. “Climate change will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip, and protect their infrastructure, today and for the long term.”

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense via Flickr

Obama To Limit Military-Style Equipment For Local Police Departments

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans to stop the federal government from distributing some military equipment to law enforcement agencies around the country, trimming back a practice that drew scrutiny amid concerns about the militarization of local police forces.

The decision follows a set of recommendations from a working group Obama set up after the unrest last year in Ferguson, Mo., where police wearing body armor and riding in armored trucks subdued protesters.

The federal government will stop providing weaponized aircraft, bayonets, grenade launchers, large-caliber firearms, and armored vehicles that run on tracks, according to White House officials.

Obama will make the announcement during an appearance Monday in Camden, New Jersey, where he will also talk about the community policing initiative of the Camden County police department and the city’s embrace of programs designed to improve the quality of life for children, youth and families.

The changes to the military equipment program practices are part of Obama’s broader effort to improve relations between law enforcement officials and their communities, the focus of growing concern about police brutality, especially against African-American men and boys.

Obama has expressed deep concern about the endemic social attitudes and problems that have stoked the simmering anger in many communities. He recently called it a “slow-rolling crisis.”

“We have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African-American, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions,” Obama said in April. “This has been going on for a long time. This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.”

In December, Obama set up a task force to figure out how to reduce crime while building public trust. The group’s report recommends sweeping changes to officer training and police transparency, including adding body-worn cameras for police.

At the same time, a separate federal interagency working group reviewed programs that facilitate the distribution of military and other equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. Obama is directing the government to implement the recommendations, starting with the ban on grenades, bayonets, and other equipment.

The president is also putting some gear on a “controlled” list, available only to police who get specific local approval and get special training. The controlled list includes non-track armored vehicles, tactical vehicles, riot gear, and specialized firearms and ammunition.

Some police departments who received Pentagon equipment in the past had gotten approval from local officials, who were persuaded by the “what-if” arguments of post-9/11 policing in efforts to prevent terrorism. The White House did not say how its new “controlled” list would help local governments decide what to approve or whether any restrictions would be put in place to match communities’ needs with the right equipment.

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Police officers in military-style equipment along W. Florissant Avenue on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Obama To Look Back, Ahead At Selma

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, on Saturday, but he will be focused less on the past than on the future, particularly the agenda he hopes to carry out beyond his time in office.

Obama is laying out plans for a post-presidential period that his friends envision as a busy third act of his life, using his public prominence to try to address socioeconomic challenges in the world.

Economic empowerment for the disadvantaged, expanded opportunities for girls and the programs that help young men in the project that he calls “becoming a man” all are likely to figure in the agenda of the last two years of his presidency and afterward, according to people close to him.

More clouded is the role that race will play in his endeavors. Obama has not hinted at how strongly he’ll embrace the role of being the first black former president, and he strives to be seen as the leader of all Americans.

But the historic nature of his appearance Saturday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, one of the most prominent symbols of blacks’ struggles for the right to vote, is undeniable: Not only is Obama the first black to hold the office, he rode to victory on a wave of support from black voters.

Now, he’ll lay out what he sees as the next steps in Americans’ fight for equality. Emphasizing his forward-looking message will be the presence of Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, who will travel with their father to hear him talk about his vision for the country he hopes to turn over to them and their peers.

“He believes his part in history is to hand this country off not only to another president better than he found it, but to a new generation better than he found it,” said one key adviser, who wouldn’t be named discussing Obama’s views before his remarks.

In Selma, Obama will address an audience roiled by injustices of its own time.

Some echo the event they are gathering to mark. Days before the Selma anniversary, a Justice Department report described routine violations of the rights of blacks living in Ferguson, Missouri, where racial tensions boiled over after the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer last summer.

Other challenges fail to make the front page despite their depth of impact. Selma, a mostly black community, has a median household outcome of $21,000. Almost a third of the population lives below the poverty line.

“Progress is elusive,” said Rep. Terri A. Sewell, a black Democrat who represents Selma, her hometown, in Congress. “We see it in the unemployment rate. We see it in Ferguson. We’re just not there yet.”

Half a century ago, when protesters gathered to demonstrate on a walk from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital, their demand for voting rights had been compounded by the violent police resistance.

In that first attempt, on the morning of March 7, 1965, they ran into a blockade of troopers at the bridge who ordered them to disperse and then beat and tear-gassed them when they did not.

Images of “Bloody Sunday” ignited a fury across the country and helped to build the political momentum to pass the Voting Rights Act.

Fifty years later, that law has been gutted by the courts. Selma has seen its schools integrated and then segregated again, leaving many residents to wonder what has changed for them.

“Sadly, the next stage of the civil rights movement is on us. The ‘black lives matter’ movement is the current civil rights movement,” said Joshua Rothman, a professor of history at the University of Alabama and the director of the Summersell Center for the Study of the South.

“The school-to-prison pipeline, police brutality, sentencing — every single one of those has racial bias built into them structurally,” Rothman said. “Those things have blown up in the aftermath of Ferguson, but all of those issues were there before…. It really does seem, in the last five to ten years, that we’re going backwards.”

A looming question for Obama is how he will speak to such inequities — at the bridge and down the road.

Expectations for what the first black president would do about those challenges have always been high. As Obama navigates his final two years in office, it’s clear that he plans to address some of the underlying causes with the power of his office.

It was his Justice Department that produced the Ferguson report. His outgoing attorney general is pushing sentencing reform.

Obama has offered few clues about how he personally will talk about racial bias in America after he leaves office. Those close to him are well aware of the backlash that often has come when he has spoken about race as president.

Still, some words have more power years after they’re said. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is far more potent for Americans now than it was when he gave it, Rothman said.

“A hundred and fifty years after slavery, everybody likes to think they would have been an abolitionist, but most of us would not have been if we had been alive then,” Rothman said.

“The civil rights movement is the same. Most people like to believe they wouldn’t have voted for George Wallace but, at the time, most white people voted for Wallace,” he said, referring to the governor of Alabama in the mid-1960s who has come to be seen as a symbol of white segregationist attitudes of the time.

“We like to imagine we would have been on the right side,” Rothman said. “Those words said then, and as we hear them now … they let people imagine where they would have been.”

Last time he spoke in Selma, Obama also looked to challenges ahead.

As a candidate seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2007, he paid respects to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and summoned the support of its leaders for his efforts to carry the banner of a new generation. He called them the “Moses generation” and his peers the “Joshua generation,” invoking the handoff from one leader to the next in the biblical story of freedom.

These days he is talking about his young daughters and their cohort, and the flag he thinks they must carry.

“Part of what I’m hoping to do is remind them of their own obligations,” Obama said of his daughters recently. “Because there are going to be marches for them to march, and struggles for them to fight.”

Obama is to speak on the anniversary at almost the minute that civil rights leader John Lewis, now a congressman from Georgia, led the first march from Selma out of a church there.

Organizers offered the pulpit of the Brown Chapel AME Church where the protesters gathered on that brutal day in 1965. But the president couldn’t resist the draw to the place made historic that day.

As he speaks, Obama will stand at the base of the Pettus Bridge, looking east out of Selma toward Montgomery.

Sewell compares current-day inequalities to the bridge itself. People are so used to driving over it every day, using it “as a conduit,” that they forget what it stands for.

She hopes it will look different on Saturday.

“That’s the challenge of my generation, and of the millennial generation,” Sewell said, “to not forget. To be ever-vigilant.”

Photo: President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama host a reception celebrating African American History Month in the East Room of the White House on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Obama Vetoes Keystone Pipeline Bill, Heightening Clash With GOP

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama rejected a bill Tuesday that would have approved construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the first veto of a year that seems likely to feature repeated such moves as the Democratic president confronts the Republican-led Congress.

The veto came as no surprise to GOP lawmakers, who passed the measure in early February. The decision to reject the bill came within hours of its formal delivery to the White House on Tuesday.

Before Congress passed the bill, Obama had promised to reject it, saying that it improperly infringed on his executive powers by moving the process of reviewing the pipeline from the administration to Congress.

Republican congressional leaders are expected to schedule a vote in coming days in an attempt to override the veto, but that effort is almost certain to fail. The bill passed both houses of Congress with less than the two-thirds vote needed for an override.

Even before the veto, Republican congressional leaders attacked Obama’s expected action. “It’s hard to even imagine what a serious justification for a veto might be,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a floor speech Tuesday.

“This bipartisan bill is a solution for fixing a review the Obama administration broke as it ignored deadlines and interfered for political reasons,” he said.

The White House has preserved the possibility that the administration might yet approve the Keystone project if officials determine after further review that it is in the national interest. The project’s backers, however, have become increasingly gloomy about ever receiving a green light from Obama.

Keystone is designed to move oil from the tar sands deposits under Canada’s prairies more than 1,000 miles to refineries along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Because it crosses an international border, U.S. law requires that the State Department find the project to be in the national interest before granting a license for construction.

TransCanada, which proposes to build the pipeline, filed its application with the State Department in September 2008, and the project has been under review ever since.

Republicans said they passed the bill, which would order the project’s approval, in order to fulfill their commitment to pursue job-creating policies.

In a video released Monday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said “Keystone XL pipeline is a good idea for our economy and it’s a good idea for our country.” The project would create up to 42,000 direct jobs, Boehner said.

Administration officials say most of the jobs the project would create are temporary, related to construction, and that the number of permanent jobs involved is minuscule. At the same time, the project could have serious negative environmental consequences, mostly by contributing to global warming, they say.

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency reported to the State Department that the pipeline would add as much carbon dioxide to the air each year as 6 million passenger vehicles.

Obama has said previously that the project would only promote the U.S. national interest if it didn’t significantly worsen carbon emissions, the leading cause of global warming.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the EPA assessment doesn’t necessarily decide the question. The EPA study is part of the State Department’s review, he said, and no conclusion has been made yet about whether the proposed pipeline would significantly worsen carbon emissions.

The president’s decision to veto the Keystone bill, Earnest said, was based not on the merits of the project but rather on his concern about respecting the process of review.

Photo: Talk Radio News Service via Flickr

College Tuition Hits Home For Obama

By Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

PALO ALTO, Calif. — He’s getting sappy on college campuses, wringing his hands about his tuition savings plan and waxing nostalgic about his own years as an undergraduate.

President Barack Obama is hurtling toward a deadline that looms over him much like the end of his time in office does — the day his first child leaves for college.

Like other parents, he’s thinking about how much it will cost to provide a higher education for his daughter Malia, a high school junior whose recent tour of colleges on the East and West coasts was hard to hide from social media.

Unlike most fathers, though, Obama thinks he can do something about it. Personal experience is clearly informing the president’s public policy.

In his State of the Union address last month, Obama proposed eliminating so-called 529 college savings plans, though the White House backed off the idea once it became clear that it would be unpopular. He also began pushing a proposal last month that would make the first two years of college free to all students as long as they were willing to take their core classes at a community college.

Fatherhood and work have intertwined throughout Obama’s career. Not long after his daughter Sasha was diagnosed as an infant with meningitis, Obama, then a state senator, introduced a child-health bill in the Illinois Legislature.

As his girls and their friends progressed in school, he began to criticize President George W. Bush as underfunding the federal No Child Left Behind initiative. In his 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate, while Malia began first grade, he talked about investing in after-school programs and early childhood education.

Obama has hounded colleges to get their costs under control for years. Nowadays, though, the president is being uncharacteristically public about what’s going on at home, mentioning the prospect of being a college dad — and the question of paying tuition — in speeches.

In one, he explained why he had changed his mind about backing the 529 proposal.

“I have 529s for both Malia and Sasha,” he said this month in Indiana. “The problem is when you looked at the statistics, the people who used them most were folks who were a little on the high end. And so our thinking was you could save money by eliminating the 529 and shift the money into loan programs that were a little more broadly based.”

It wasn’t entirely clear whether he was worried about the effect on public policy or on himself.

“There’s probably a little bit of transference, remembering his own excitement at qualifying for these great schools but also carrying that underlying anxiety about affording it,” said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a presidential historian who studies first families.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, said Anita McBride, the former chief of staff to Laura Bush, whose daughters Jenna and Barbara began college a few months before their father was sworn in as president.

“All of our leaders do better when they have that sensitivity about what’s going on at the ground level,” McBride said. “He’s not just dealing with this based on a briefing he got from the secretary of Education,” she said of Obama. “He’s walking through it personally.”

Obama will not be the first president to send a daughter off to school while running the country. Decades ago, Margaret Truman and Lynda Bird Johnson commuted across the capital to George Washington University.

Secret Service agents accompanied Amy Carter to Brown University, Chelsea Clinton to Stanford University and Bush’s twins to Yale University and the University of Texas.

Michelle Obama is taking care to keep Malia Obama’s deliberations private, but visiting colleges in the age of Twitter means never having to announce that you’re touring the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, New York University and Columbia University.

Thanks mostly to the proceeds from writing best-selling books, it has been years since the president needed to worry about money, said a close family friend, but he remembers struggling to pay for college.

“It’s still fresh in his mind,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president who has known the Obama family for years. “That’s the difference between him and other people who talk about this. For them, it’s theoretical. For him, it’s real.”

Obama recently recalled that he and his wife shared not just the bonds of love but “the bonds of debt.” He began at Occidental College, an then graduated from Columbia University before entering the work world and eventually Harvard Law School. Michelle Obama went to Princeton University and to Harvard Law School.

Photo: President Barack Obama speaks at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in the EEOB building Feb. 18, 2015 in Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama defended his decision not to call war against ISIS a religious one during his remarks. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Possible Drone Discovered On White House Grounds, Officials Say

By Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

An electronic device that could be a drone has been recovered on the White House grounds, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a briefing early Monday in New Delhi, India.

Asked about media reports on the device, Earnest said the device “doesn’t pose any ongoing threat” to the Obama family. The Secret Service is reportedly investigating.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are traveling in India right now. Their daughters, Malia and Sasha, are at home with their grandmother.

The question arose during a lengthy news conference here about diplomatic talks with the Indian government and Obama’s trip later this week to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to pay respects to the family of the late king during their mourning period.

In the middle of the news conference, Earnest said he didn’t know about the reports on the device. After checking his BlackBerry at the end of the news conference, he said a device was recovered on the White House grounds.

AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

Obama, India’s Prime Minister Face Cold, Rain In Effort To Warm Relations

By Christi Parsons and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

NEW DEHLI — President Obama joined Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a lengthy celebration of India’s Republic Day on Monday in a symbolic series of events summarized by a long parade in cold rain.

Shielded partly by an umbrella, Obama sat attentively for more than two hours by Modi’s side, watching camels and dancers parade down Rajpath, a grand ceremonial boulevard in central New Delhi.

He listened as Modi explained the floats from each of the Indian states, nodding enthusiastically at the one from the prime minister’s home state of Gujarat.

The display of respect is the purpose of Obama’s trip. After years of rocky relations between their two countries, the White House is hoping that the growing personal warmth between the president and prime minister will turn into a more cooperative relationship between their governments.

But the Soviet-style military parade today also illustrated the awkwardness that remains, with Obama watching an abundance of Russian-made hardware filing past.

Even as Modi tries to edge closer to the U.S., India’s traditional orientation remains strong. During a side-by-side news conference over the weekend, Obama criticized Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin while Modi, who has defended Russia’s actions in Ukraine, stood there silently.

Aides to the president say the conversations between Obama and Modi are going well. After their closed door sessions on Sunday, the two men announced a minor meeting of the minds on a few matters, including a civil nuclear deal that could clear the way for multi-national corporations to build nuclear power plants here.

The White House characterized the accords as breakthroughs, in the sense that they cleared hurdles that have stood in the way of bigger deals on global climate talks and greater access to Indian markets for American companies.

Far and away, though, advisors to Obama say he made the unusual one-country trip to India in an attempt to pay respects and warm relations.

Monday was devoted to that purpose, as the president and First Lady Michelle Obama braved the weather to watch the entire parade – with TV cameras trained on them for reactions in live broadcasts on several India television channels.

Obama sat by Modi, who wore a turban with a bright red fan, watching several Indian military regiments – including one riding on camels draped in bright poms and tiny mirrors.

As the floats from the states rolled by, though, he tilted his head close to Modi and asked questions. Modi smiled and pointed at the Gujarat float, featuring his pet project back home, the Statue of Unity.

He watched without saying much as several armored trucks and tanks rolled by, along with soldiers cradling assault weapons in their arms.

Much of the procession of Indian military hardware comes from Russia. A succession of Russian-made T-90 and T-72 battle tanks rumbled down the boulevard, followed by a flyover by three Russian Mi-35 helicopters in formation.

But at the end of the parade, India displayed some newer hardware from the United States, which has surpassed Russia to become India’s main arms supplier. India bought $1.9 billion in U.S. weaponry in 2013, according to IHS Jane’s, a security analysis group, including advanced aircraft that Indian officials say will be the cornerstone of the country’s air force.

American-made C-17 and C-130J planes along with the Boeing-built Poseidon aircraft participated in a flyover, although they were escorted by Russian fighter planes, a sign of India trying to strike a balance between an old friend and a new one.

“Even though the U.S. has lost opportunities to sell to India over the years, it has regained the initiative and the parade demonstrated that,” said Sameer Patil, a defense analyst at Gateway House, a Mumbai think tank. “It took Russia 50 years to build the defense partnership with India but the U.S. has overtaken them in the last 10 years.”

U.S. and Indian officials on Sunday announced expanded defense cooperation and plans to jointly produce four relatively basic military projects, including the unarmed Raven drone aircraft, manufactured by Monrovia, Calif.-based AeroVironment Inc.

“The preference of both sides is to work on simpler systems and see results, and then move on to more complicated stuff,” Patil said.

AFP Photo/Roberto Schmidt

Obama Proposes Plan To Make Community College Free For Everyone

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama rolled out a new plan Thursday to make two years of community college free, or nearly so, for millions of students across the country, a major investment that the White House cast as changing the face of higher education.

The program, inspired by new initiatives in Tennessee and Chicago, could benefit up to 9 million students, advisers said. At its heart is dedicated federal funding to cover 75 percent of tuition, with the states picking up the rest of the tab.

“What I’d like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for everybody who is willing to work for it,” Obama said in a video filmed on Air Force One and posted Thursday on Facebook, ahead of his planned visit Friday to a community college and technical center in Knoxville, Tenn., as part of a trip designed to preview his policy plans for 2015.

White House advisers declined to say how much the proposal would cost or how the administration planned to pay for it, but experts said such a venture could cost the federal government tens of billions of dollars.

The investment would make two years of college “the norm,” policy adviser Cecelia Munoz said, a disruption of traditional higher education that comes as average tuition at a public four-year college has gone up more than 250 percent over the last three decades, according to government figures.

The community college proposal echoes one of Obama’s favorite themes: empowering the middle class through education and opportunity. He sees the decline in state funding for higher education as a major barrier to those aspiring to the middle class.

Obama’s proposal would make two years of community college “as free as high school for responsible students,” Munoz told reporters, saving a full-time community college student an average of $3,800 in tuition per year. Obama also plans to propose a new fund to pay for high-quality technical training programs.

In the Tennessee program, students can enroll at any of the state’s 27 colleges of applied technology, community colleges or four-year public universities offering an associate’s degree.

To get states to make their own version of that program, Obama would have to win congressional approval for the federal investment.

“Anything involving more money to pay for things is going to be difficult in this Congress,” said Ben Miller, a senior education policy analyst at the New America Foundation. “Increasing investments in higher education are just hard to find.”

Still, Munoz noted, Tennessee’s program is already in place in a state with a Republican governor.

“This is a proposal with bipartisan appeal,” she said.

So far, Obama’s efforts to reduce the cost of college have been meager. He has tried to tie financial aid to college performance and urged states to take performance into consideration when distributing funds to their public colleges. He has also raised by $1,000 the maximum Pell Grant award for working-class and middle-class families and changed the student loan system to cut out subsidies to banks providing college loans.

For those who want to attend a two-year college, the costs are not nearly as daunting as a four-year university.

This school year, for example, the average published tuition and fee prices for in-state students at public four-year institutions range from $4,646 in Wyoming and $6,138 in Alaska to $14,419 in Vermont and $14,712 in New Hampshire, according to the College Board.

The comparable community colleges are $2,719 in Wyoming and $4,064 in Alaska to $7,320 in Vermont and $6,500 in New Hampshire.

White House policy staffers say the prospect of full coverage would make a significant difference over the course of a four-year education for those who decided to spend the first two years at a community college.

The effect on students’ ambition would be another benefit, Miller said.

“There’s a clarity of message that would be good for students,” he said. “We see right now that so many students and families really don’t have a great sense of how much college is going to cost. They dramatically overestimate.

“If you think in sixth grade, ‘I don’t have any hope of going to college,’ that’s discouraging,” he said. “You may conclude there’s no point in trying.”

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

Obama Says Report Shows CIA Torture Program At Odds With U.S. Values

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama sought Tuesday to soften the impact of a new Senate committee report on the use of waterboarding and other brutal methods of interrogation in the U.S. response to terrorist attacks and threats, pledging publicly that he would try to make sure that the country never resorts to such methods in the future.

In a statement issued moments after the report was released, Obama decried what he described as “one element of our nation’s response” to the Sept. 11 attacks, specifically the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which he formally ended shortly after taking office.

“The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States, and it reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counter-terrorism efforts or our national security interests,” Obama said. “Moreover, these techniques did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners. That is why I will continue to use my authority as president to make sure we never resort to those methods again.”

The nation’s intelligence community is braced for a possible backlash to the findings of the report, which is thousands of pages long and recounts CIA interrogation tactics in the years after 9/11. The report concludes that the program lost track of captives, extracted false confessions and fabricated information, and produced no useful intelligence about imminent terrorist attacks.

Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said in a message to the intelligence community that it must remain vigilant and focused on its work.

The CIA quickly attacked the report, noting that the program was found to be legal by the Justice Department under the Bush administration, but acknowledging that the interrogations were ultimately flawed.

“The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qaida and affiliated terrorists,” CIA Director John Brennan said in a statement. ” In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been working for months to declassify material for the report, navigating disputes between her committee and the CIA about what could be released publicly. The Obama administration supported the release of the report, but has also directed U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence units to prepare for possible violence around the world as a result.

On Tuesday, Obama argued that the U.S. had done more to stand up for freedom and human rights of people around the world.

“As Americans, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to our fellow citizens who serve to keep us safe, among them the dedicated men and women of our intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency,” he said.

The U.S. did “many things right” in the wake of 9/11, Obama said, but also made mistakes.

“Some of the actions that were taken were contrary to our values,” he said. “That is why I unequivocally banned torture when I took office, because one of our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals at home and abroad.”

The release of the report, he said, was a reminder of American values.

“I don’t believe that any other nation would go to the lengths the United States does to bare its soul, admit mistakes when they are made and learn from those mistakes,” Clapper added.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Obama Proposes $263M For Training, Body Cameras For Local Police

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is ordering up new rules for giving local police agencies access to surplus U.S. military equipment such as the armored vehicles, assault rifles and body armor that police in Ferguson, Mo., used in an unsuccessful attempt to quiet protests this summer.

Obama is also proposing a three-year, $263-million spending package to expand training and increase the use of body-worn cameras for monitoring police interactions with the public. The proposal includes $75 million that would provide matching funds for purchasing as many as 50,000 cameras. Such cameras might have provided more information in the deadly August shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white Ferguson police officer.

The president’s directive comes along with the release of a new White House review that found the so-called “surplus” programs of the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to be a mishmash of rules and practices, with no clear sign that all police are properly trained and certified to use the military-grade equipment they receive.

The results of the review come a week after a grand jury in St. Louis County chose not to indict the Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. The shooting inflamed local tensions and led to unrest that brought attention to the use of military-grade equipment by local law enforcement officials in their response. Protests around the country and in Ferguson began anew last week in the wake of the grand jury’s decision.

With the report newly in hand, Obama is instructing his staff to come up with a list of military gear that has a legitimate civilian law enforcement purpose and thus can be sent to local police forces around the country, senior administration officials said Monday.

The new rules will also require that local officials review and authorize the acquisition of small arms and all other “controlled” equipment by their communities, and that police be specially trained in their civilian use.

The rules will come within the next four months in the form of an executive order governing the Pentagon and all other federal agencies that run so-called “surplus” programs that distribute military-style equipment to police around the country.

“What he’s asking his agencies to do is add a very specific layer of accountability,” said one senior administration official familiar with the program. “These layers of accountability aren’t currently present in the program.”

In the case of Ferguson, the use of military equipment served only to escalate the conflict between police and protesters angry about the shooting.

As community leaders demanded to know why the police turned out at peaceful protests with riot gear and equipment, Obama ordered a White House review of the rules that govern the distribution of that material.

The new report identifies a “lack of consistency” in how the various federal programs are run and audited and raises questions about whether police know how to use the military-grade equipment, the senior administration official said.

Obama is discussing the report’s findings, and his new directive, in a series of Monday meetings with his Cabinet, young civil rights leaders and community leaders from around the country.

At the top of the agenda is finding ways to build trust between police and communities, an aide to the president said.

Obama directed his staff to draft an order that requires non-police officials to review and authorize the transfer of such equipment as small arms and armored vehicles before it can come to their communities.

Police forces would have to take part in rigorous training as well as follow-up reports for serious incidents involving the federal equipment, under the order.

In addition, Obama is setting up a task force to come up with recommendations for fighting crime while still building public trust. Charles H. Ramsey, the Philadelphia police commissioner, and Laurie Robinson, former assistant attorney general for justice programs, will co-chair the panel.

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan