Covering Washington politics. From our vantage point. One day a time.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Medea Benjamin Interrupts President Obama, But Isn't A 'Heckler'

Aw, Medea Benjamin.    Is she the Sojourner Truth of the 21st century?
We've seen the pint-sized co-founder of the Code Pink organization protest movements around DC for several years now.  

Code Pink's Medea Benjamin at Occupy the 99% rally in DC in 2011.  Photo CD Brown.
We've seen her protesting President Bush's war in Iraq, we've seen her and her merry band of pink T-shirt wearing followers at Occupy DC movements, and now she's (once again) leading the charge for the current administration to "close GITMO".
When we saw her protesting in front of the White House earlier this month, signs in tow, demanding that President Obama close Guantanamo Bay, we had to chat with her to find out why GITMO was foremost on her mind.  After all, millions of regular American citizens are jailed each year - without due process - for crimes they didn't commit - so why just protest the imprisonment of Guantanamo Bay detainees? 

We asked.  Here's what she had to say.

"We should protest it all. The U.S. prison system, I think this [GITMO] is a part of the U.S. prison system", she said. "You tell me a case, and I'll be there protesting it." 

Certainly Medea isn't going to protest every agenda, everywhere, all the time, but she did make an appearance during the president's remarks to roughly 300 attendees on counterterrorism at National Defense University last week where she spoke 'directly' to President Obama to make her concerns known. 

Here's a transcript of their exchange.  [VIDEO]
President Obama on Guatanamo Bay (and Medea Benjamin)
The glaring exception to this time-tested approach is the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.  The original premise for opening GTMO -- that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention -- was found unconstitutional five years ago.  In the meantime, GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.  Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at GTMO. 

During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people -- almost $1 million per prisoner.  And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another $200 million to keep GTMO open at a time when we’re cutting investments in education and research here at home, and when the Pentagon is struggling with sequester and budget cuts.

As President, I have tried to close GTMO.  I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries or imprisoning them here in the United States. 
These restrictions make no sense.  After all, under President Bush, some 530 detainees were transferred from GTMO with Congress’s support.  When I ran for President the first time, John McCain supported closing GTMO -- this was a bipartisan issue.  No person has ever escaped one of our super-max or military prisons here in the United States -- ever.  Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism or terrorism-related offenses, including some folks who are more dangerous than most GTMO detainees.  They're in our prisons. 
And given my administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should have never have been opened. 
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Excuse me, President Obama -- 
THE PRESIDENT:  So -- let me finish, ma'am.  So today, once again
MEDEA BENJAMIN:  There are 102 people on a hunger strike.  These are desperate people. 
THE PRESIDENT:  I'm about to address it, ma'am, but you've got to let me speak.  I'm about to address it.
MEDEA BENJAMIN:  You're our Commander-In-Chief --
THE PRESIDENT:  Let me address it.
MEDEA BENJAMIN:  -- you an close Guantanamo Bay. 
THE PRESIDENT:  Why don’t you let me address it, ma'am.
MEDEA BENJAMIN:  There’s still prisoners --
THE PRESIDENT:  Why don’t you sit down and I will tell you exactly what I'm going to do.
MEDEA BENJAMIN:  That includes 57 Yemenis.
THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, ma'am.  Thank you.   Ma'am, thank you.  You should let me finish my sentence.  Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO.  I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions.  I’m appointing a new senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. 
I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen so we can review them on a case-by-case basis.  To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. 
MEDEA BENJAMIN:  -- prisoners already.  Release them today.
THE PRESIDENT:  Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and our military justice system.  And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee.
MEDEA BENJAMIN:  It needs to be --
THE PRESIDENT:  Now, ma'am, let me finish.  Let me finish, ma'am.  Part of free speech is you being able to speak, but also, you listening and me being able to speak. 
Now, even after we take these steps one issue will remain -- just how to deal with those GTMO detainees who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks but who cannot be prosecuted, for example, because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law.  But once we commit to a process of closing GTMO, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law. 
     I know the politics are hard.  But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it.  Imagine a future -- 10 years from now or 20 years from now -- when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country.  Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike.  I'm willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack because it's worth being passionate about.  Is this who we are?  Is that something our Founders foresaw?  Is that the America we want to leave our children?  Our sense of justice is stronger than that. 
We have prosecuted scores of terrorists in our courts.  That includes Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit; and Faisal Shahzad, who put a car bomb in Times Square. It's in a court of law that we will try Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of bombing the Boston Marathon.  Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, is, as we speak, serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison here in the United States.  In sentencing Reid, Judge William Young told him, “The way we treat you…is the measure of our own liberties.”
It seems Medea just wasn't satisfied with the president's remarks, and she immediately went on to another topic during her 15 minutes of 'fame'.  (Pool reports indicate "several security officials gathered around her and let her stay").

MEDEA BENJAMIN:  How about Abdulmutallab -- locking up a 16-year-old -- is that the way we treat a 16-year old?  (Inaudible) -- can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA?  Can you stop the signature strikes killing people on the basis of suspicious activities?
     THE PRESIDENT:  We’re addressing that, ma’am. 
     MEDEA BENJAMIN:  -- .."thousands of Muslims that got killed -- will you compensate the innocent families -- that will make us safer here at home.  I love my country...I love the rule of law...Abide by the rule of law. You're a constitutional lawyer."
After her repeated interruption she was finally escorted out of the building.
Afterwards, the president told the crowd, "The voice of that woman is worth listening to."  Adding, "these are tough issues, and the notion that we can just gloss over them, is wrong."
Did Medea prove that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, (and can also get the boot)?
If only Medea were as radical about cases like of Travyon Martin, the Garrison Twins, Mumia Abul Jamal, Stop-and-Frisk' policies, and others. 
Medea, if you're reading this, we'd like you to join us in taking up the mantle for these cases as well.
Can we count on you?

Benjamin:  "I'm Not a Heckler"

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First Lady and Students Return To Harvest White House Garden; Eat Pizza

Tuesday morning cloudy, wet skies gave way to a beautiful afternoon in the White House garden where First Lady Michelle Obama and students from several schools gathered to reap the fruits of their labor.
First Lady Obama and students harvest vegetables from the White House garden. Photo/CD Brown.
It was an awe inspiring moment to see that which had started as just little seeds months before in April, grow to be what will now feed White House guests, dignitaries, friends, and of course the First Family.

Situated near the White House fountain and adjacent to the White House Children’s garden are full grown radishes, cabbage, carrots, spinach, kale, collard greens and leeks ready for the picking (and eating).  

The first lady joined students from Arthur D. Healey School from Somerville, Massachusetts; and Milton Elementary School from Milton, Vermont – the later schools whose communities were ravished by Hurricane Sandy earlier this year.

Mrs. Obama praised the students for getting through the school year despite the adversity they faced earlier in the year.  “And it hasn’t been that easy, but you guys have managed to get through the school year way on top of the game, and we’re just very proud of you”, the First Lady said.  “ That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to have you here today.  So welcome.  It’s good to have you.” 

Also joining Mrs. Obama in harvesting were students from Union Beach Memorial School and Long Beach Island grade schools, and students from Sarah Moore Green Magnet Academy (SMGM) out of Knoxville, TN.
Ten year old Jalen Hairston of SMGMA said of the occasion, “It’s a great opportunity” to be at the White House harvesting with the first lady, an event he called “a once in a life time opportunity”. 

Garlic, lettuces and for the first time, wheat grow in the White House garden.  Photo/CD Brown.
As the students made their way through the various stations, pulling up radishes, garlic, and lettuce and talking with White House chefs and staff from the National Park Service who were also available to lend a helping hand, a look of accomplishment and success could be seen on the faces of the young gardeners.

“It will make them more appreciative of their all the opportunities they get in life”, said Keith Williamson of the Presidential Vegetable Garden on the students’ return trip to the White House garden project.  The  organization uses gardening as a tool to teach students about nutrition and exercise.

Students from Harriet Tubman and Bancroft Schools from the District of Columbia, who were with the first lady at the beginning of the White Garden project, were also in attendance.

After the harvesting the students joined the first lady and White House chefs in making flat bread pizzas with – what else; fresh toppings straight from the White House garden, topped with cheese.  

First Lady Obama makes pizza with students. Photo/CD Brown.

The pizza garnered a hearty thumbs-up as the students sat down to enjoy a fine lunch with Mrs. Obama.

Student gives the pizza a thumbs up.  Photo/CD Brown.

The First Lady’s garden project has inspired hundreds of students across the country to make healthier eating choices.  From schools to homes, the message of healthy eating is growing, just like the harvest of the White House garden.  Her book, American Grown lists several recipes for many of the items grown from the White House garden.
For inspiring a generation to live healthier lives, we say “thumbs up”.

One Last Item. 
We couldn't resist posting this pic of a WH chef bringing out all those pizza pies to the students, and looking cool in his shades while doing it.

Got pizza? 

White House chef brings pizza to students for topping with White House veggies.  Photo/CD Brown.

Friday, May 24, 2013

First Lady Makes Historic Visit From White House To Decatur House

When you talk about "karma", items coming "full circle", or the saying "what goes around comes back around", you can appreciate the historic visit by Michelle Obama to the DC's Decatur House, just a short block from where the first African American First Lady of the United States resides.

First Lady Michelle made a stop to the historic home that slaves built, worked and lived in to deliver an endowment to the preservation of the historic landmark.

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks with children during a Decatur House visit.

The endowment was a gift from American Express, presented by the company's African American CEO, Kenneth Chenault.

The Decatur House is now a National Trust for Historic Preservation Site and home to the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History.  The restoration project was made possible by a contribution to the White House Historical Association by American Express. 
During her visit the First Lady made by a brief tour of the house accompanied by schoolchildren from Willow Springs Elementary School in Fairfax, VA.

Below are comments from the First Lady during her visit.

"For nearly 200 years, as our country has grown and evolved, the Decatur House has grown and evolved right along with it.  This house has hosted parties and social events with some of our nation’s foremost leaders.  It’s been a residence for secretaries of state, and at one time, it served as headquarters for the Army Subsistence Department of the Civil War.
But from the back of the house, from a structure far less lavish, comes even more history -- the kinds of stories that too often get lost, the kinds of stories that are a part of so many of our families’ histories, including my own.  I’m talking about the slaves here at Decatur House who spent their lives within shouting distance of one of the most powerful buildings on the planet -- a bastion of freedom and justice for all.
Yet, within this very place, about 20 men and women spent their days serving those who came and went from this house and their nights jammed together on the second floor of the slave quarters, all the while holding onto a quiet hope, a quiet prayer that they, too, and perhaps their children, would someday be free.  These stories of toil, and sweat, and quiet, unrelenting dignity -- these stories are as vital to our national memory as any other.  And so it is our responsibility as a nation to ensure that these stories are told.
So more than anything, today, I simply want to say thank you.  Thank you for coming together to preserve these stories for years to come.  Thank you to everyone from American Express for making such a generous commitment to honor all of our nation’s history.  Of course, thank you to the White House Historical Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation for finding new ways to engage with our past. 
And finally, I want to thank all of you for all of the educational opportunities you’re giving to our young people.  I’m about to go on a wonderful tour with some students from Willow Springs Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia.  And what’s most exciting is that they’re not just going to look at some pictures on a wall, they’re going to take part in the re-enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do while they do it.  (Laughter.)  I'm going to look on.   
So truly, it is this type of engagement that you all are providing for young people that will continue to draw them into these spaces and give them an opportunity to really grow and understand, and understand the stories that create this country and their place in that history. 
So you all aren’t just teaching our young people about history, you’re inspiring them to believe that they can make history as well.  And that’s really what history is for -- it's for the next generation, it's for us to continue to learn and grow.  So these spaces are critical.  The work that you all are doing is vital.  They would not exist without the work that you do, and we couldn’t be more grateful."
In other historic news making events from the White House, President Obama will sign a bill today designating the Congressional Gold Medal to commemorate the lives of the four little girls who were killed in Birmingham, Alabama at the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963.
Attending today's ceremony are Birmingham Mayor William Bell, Dianne Braddock (the sister of Carole Robertson who was killed), and Lisa and Maxine McNair (the sister and mother of Denise McNair who was killed).H.


R. 360 passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on April 24. Congresswoman Sewell and Alabama Congressman Spencer Bachus introduced the bill along with the entire Alabama delegation and Alabama natives Representative John Lewis and Representative Sanford Bishop.

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved H.R. 360 on May 9. U.S. Senator Richard Shelby garnered co-sponsorship from over two-thirds of the Senate and introduced the Senate version of the bill along with Senator Jeff Sessions.

In 1997, film director, Spike Lee bought to life the history of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church that killed the young girls, with his epic documentary, Four Little Girls.


MBDA Announces Grant Competition to Create Jobs and Grow Businesses

Agency makes $6.3 million available to launch six new MBDA Business Centers
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) today announced  a solicitation for applications from prospective candidates to operate six new MBDA Business Centers in Baltimore, Houston, New York City, San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. The successful applicants will join a network of more than 30 MBDA Business Centers across the United States and Puerto Rico.  Grant amounts will range from $300,000 to $500,000 per year for a three-year cycle.
“The MBDA Business Center program is critical to furthering the Agency’s mission in assisting minority-owned businesses in gaining access to contracts, access to capital, and access to markets,” said David A. Hinson, MBDA National Director. “It is our goal to ensure the continued success of minority-owned firms who, in turn, strengthen the economy and create American jobs.”
The MBDA helps to create and maintain jobs by supporting the growth and global expansion of U.S. minority-owned businesses. In Fiscal Year 2012, the MBDA helped create and retain over 16,000 jobs, the highest level in the 44-year history of the Agency, and helped their clients obtain over $3.6 billion in contracts and capital awards.
The primary objective of the business centers is to provide strategic consulting services to minority-owned firms that will result in the creation and retention of jobs for Americans through business growth. MBDA Business Centers have had notable success in increasing public and private sector contracts and capital investments obtained by minority-owned firms. Successful applicants to this grant competition are also expected to foster global business expansion by promoting export opportunities.
Although each MBDA Business Center is strategically located in areas with significant numbers of minority-owned firms, they are not limited by geographic boundaries and may serve minority businesses in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. This expanded reach is designed to facilitate collaborative efforts among minority-owned firms around the U.S. and with Fortune 500 companies regardless of location.
Eligible Applicants:
For-profit entities (including but not limited to sole-proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies and corporations), non-profit organizations, state and local government entities, American Indian Tribes and educational institutions are eligible to apply to operate a business center.

Submission Requirements:

Applicants must review and adhere to the full Announcement of Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO). This document outlines program details and instructions for submitting an application. The FFO can be accessed at or
Applications must be submitted electronically and time-stamped at by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on June 22, 2013. Applications that are time-stamped after the deadline will not be considered.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Obamas to Travel To Africa

President Obama and the First Lady look forward to traveling to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania from June 26 - July 3.  The President will reinforce the importance that the United States places on our deep and growing ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including through expanding economic growth, investment, and trade; strengthening democratic institutions; and investing in the next generation of African leaders.
FLOTUS and daughters touch down in So. Africa in 2011.
The President will meet with a wide array of leaders from government, business, and civil society, including youth, to discuss our strategic partnerships on bilateral and global issues.  The trip will underscore the President’s commitment to broadening and deepening cooperation between the United States and the people of sub-Saharan Africa to advance regional and global peace and prosperity.
In 2011 First Lady Obama and her daughters, Sasha and Malia visited South Africa, visiting Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town, South Africa and Gaborone, Botswana during an official visit to Africa from June 20 – 26 focused on youth leadership, education, health and wellness.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

IRS Tax Exempt Roll Maddens President

Applications for tax-exempt status for some groups being delayed, and groups singled out by the IRS?

An investigative report found that for almost two years, beginning in early 2010 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) "developed and followed a faulty policy to determine whether the applicants were engaged in political activities, which would disqualify the groups from receiving tax-exempt status."

Many organizations, including Tea Party groups, received requests for additional information from the IRS thought to include unnecessary questions (i.e. donor lists, amounts of donations, etc.)

"I'm mad", said President Obama speaking from the East Room of the White House this evening, calling the conduct of the IRS "inexcusable", and intolerable.

"The IRS has to operate with absolute integrity."
The Obama administration has accepted the resignation of Steven Miller, the acting IRS Commissioner, in an attempt to hold those responsible accountable. 

"It's fixable, and it's in everyone's best interest to make sure it is", said Obama, referring to Congress.

The president said he plans to put in place "new checks" and "safeguards", to ensure this act doesn't happen again.

The president is scheduled to make further remarks during Thursday's press briefing.

The IRS event joins other investigations going on this week, most notably the Benghazi hearing and the AP reporters' phone records investigation.

RELEASED: POTUS & VPOTUS Financial Disclosure Documents

The White House has released the financial disclosure reports of President Obama and Vice President Biden.

From the White House:

"The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 requires high-level federal officials to publicly disclose their personal financial interests. The public filing system serves to prevent financial conflicts of interest by providing for a systematic review of the finances of government officials. Those finances are set forth in annual disclosures which are reviewed and certified by ethics officials. Neither the President nor the Vice President have any conflicts of interest, and their reports have been reviewed and certified by the independent Office of Government Ethics. We are continuing this Administration's practice of posting these forms online here in the interests of transparency":

View the President's 2012 financial disclosure report (pdf)
Financial disclosure reports of White House staffers are expected to be released within the coming month.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

When A Science Fair Project Goes 'Really' Bad

It isn't out of the ordinary for a student's science fair project to go awry at some point while a young scientist-in-training tries to perfect his or her project.

What is definitely unusual, unheard of, and definitely out of the ordinary is possibly getting a felony charge when it does.

Kiera Wilmot.  Expelled high school science student.
Enter Kiera Wilmot, a sixteen year-old budding science student with plans to further pursue courses in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM).  While attending Florida's Bartow High School, Wilmot's science project exploded and law enforcement officials were brought into the picture.  While no one was injured, Wilmot was charged with 'detonating a bottle of explosive materials on the school grounds'.

News sources reported that Wilmot was charged with a felony, a charge that could ruin her young career as a student trying to get into college.

Attorney for Wilmot, Larry Hardaway, claims that events surrounding the April 23, 2013 have been incorrectly reported by the media.  

While Wilmot did face a ten-day expulsion, she has not formally been charged with a felony, claims Hardaway.

Whether the state of Florida does, or does not, this event has wreaked havoc on the future of a promising young student, her family, and community.

Said Hardaway, “There is a tremendous need to convey some accuracy (about the story) being passed around the country. The State has not formally or officially filed felony charges."

Hardaway speaks about the case on the Joe Madison Show on Sirius XM radio.

Listen to the entire interview here.

There have been no reports on whether President Obama, who hosted the 2013 White House Science Fair earlier this month, has reached out to Wilmot, or her family.

The president has personally reached out in the past to individuals whose stories have made national headlines, most notably Sandra Fluke, and lately, Jason Collins (scheduled to remark at the 2013 LGBT gala on May 29th).  Those individuals' stories brought attention to the president's positions he publicly stated he supports:  Fluke on women's health issues and health care, and Collins on the issue of homosexuality and the LGBT communities.

The president did not, however, address the (still pending case of) Trayvon Martin or the Hadiya Pendleton tragedies, initially, until public opinion forced his hand.  (First Lady Michelle Obama attended and spoke at Pendleton's memorial service).  Additionally, it has not been reported whether the president called Washington Capitals hockey player, Joel Ward, after he was forced last year into the public spot light by a nation.

The president's stance on gun violence finally made national headlines after the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings when more than twenty young students were gunned down during a school day.

It will be interesting to see what position the president takes on the Wilmot case in light of the fact that he is supportive of, and a proponent of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses for young students.

"Of course, primarily we’re here to celebrate these young scientists and visionaries who dream, and create, and innovate; who ask the question, why not?  Why not try something better?  Something that’s faster; something that helps more people.  And that drive, that refusal to give up, that focus on the future is part of what makes America great.  And all of you are participants in this long line of inventors and creators that have made this the most dynamic economy and the most dynamic country on Earth....And that’s one of the things that I’ve been focused on as President is how do we create an all-hands-on-deck approach to science, technology, engineering, and math." 
 - President Barack Obama, 2013 White House Science

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Michelle Obama Is 'American Grown': Author. Job Creator.

First Lady Michelle Obama will sign copies of her book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Garden Across America at the Politics & Prose bookstore. 

The book offers a look at the first vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden and shares inspiring stories of Americans from across the country who are actively engaged in community, school, and urban gardens.

Mrs. Obama accepted no advance for American Grown and all author proceeds will go to the National Park Foundation (, the official charity of America’s national parks.

Funds will be used for programs that promote gardening and healthy eating and give young people the opportunity to experience the outdoors and lead more active lives, as well as for the continued care of the White House Kitchen Garden. 

Random House will also donate a portion of its profits to the National Park Foundation.

Earlier this week Mrs. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden announced their continued intent to ensure American veterans find jobs.

Said Mrs. Obama, "That's why, back in August of 2011, President Obama challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013. And over the past two years, businesses across America have answered that call. By last August, they had already filled 125,000 jobs, with commitments to hire 250,000 more. And today, we are proud to announce that America's businesses have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses, almost triple the original goal. In addition, companies like Wal-MartUPS, Home Depot, the Blackstone Group, Target, and McDonald's have committed to hire or train another 435,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years."