President Obama said Sony Pictures Entertainment had made a mistake pulling the movie “The Interview," and defended normalizing relations with Cuba in his last press conference of the year before heading to Hawaii for vacation.
“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” he said of the cyber attack during which embarrassing emails were made public.
Here are the main topics that he addressed during the exchange with the press, during which he only called on female reporters.
On the day that the FBI identified North Korea as the source of the cyber-attacks on Sony, Obama refused to reveal what the U.S. response would be other than to say it would be proportional and in a place and time of U.S. choosing.
He said that although he sympathized with Sony, he wished its executives had talked to him before making the decision on “The Interview.”
“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” he said.
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If Sony could be intimidated over the release of a satirical movie, imagine what might happen if the issue were a documentary or a news report, he said. Even worse, imagine if producers and other start engaging in self-censorship, he said.
"That's not what America's about," he said.
Obama said he shared worries that Cuba would fail to address human right or move toward democracy.
“This is still a regime that oppresses its people,” he said.
But he said he believed normalizing relations, announced this week by his administration, would give the United States more leverage over Cuba. Visiting Americans and better access to telecommunications and the Internet will chip away at what he called a hermetically sealed society and offer the best prospect for self determination, he said.
“Change is going to come to Cuba,” he said. “It has to.”
The country’s economy does not work and it can no longer rely on subsidies from allies such as Venezuela.
He recounted that in his conversation with Cuba President Raul Castro, after Obama had apologized for his 15-minute opening, Castro told him that he was a young man and still had time to break Fidel Castro’s record for speaking for seven hours straight.
State of Race Relations
Black Americans like the rest of Americans are better off than when he took office, Obama said, though the income and wealth gap between black and white America remained.
He said that educational changes his administration has initiated have meant higher high school graduation rates and record numbers of people attending college.
Race relations are now "colored" by police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, and the perception that law enforcement was not fair, he said.
He said a task force he created would return with practical changes that could be implemented.
“People are basically good and have good intentions,” he said.
Systems and institutions don’t always work as well as they should and can be fixed, he said.
Dealing With Congress
Obama said he would continue to take unilateral actions on issues important to the American people if Congress failed to act.
Immigration was the classic example, he said. He acted only after the House failed to move on a comprehensive bill passed by the Senate.
If Republicans were angered by his executive actions, he said, “There is a very simple solution: Pass bills.”
He urged Republicans to work with him because both sides would have to compromise.
Obama again said that the Keystone XL pipeline would not have much effect on gas prices in the United States, but instead would benefit the Canadian oil industry. The pipeline would bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, where it would enter the world oil market.
He said he hoped to work with Republicans on fairness in the tax system, particularly involving corporations. Some are paying taxes at a rate of 35 percent, others of which are paying nothing.
Obama touted America's economic gains and said the country could enter the new year confident that the United States was making strides.
This year was the strongest for job growth since the 1990s; over a 57-month period, businesses had created nearly 11 million new jobs, he said. About 10 million Americans have gained health insurance in the past year. Deficits has been cut by about two-thirds since he took office.
"America's resurgence is real," he said.