Covering

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



Friday, May 30, 2014

Two briefing room visits; two resignations

President Obama was busy at the podium in the James Brady briefing room Friday.

Earlier in the day he announced the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shisenki amid allegations of nationwide misconduct within VA hospitals.




Before that, he announced that Shinseki would be firing a few officials within the VA hierarchy. 

Said the president to reporters in the briefing room, "Secretary Shinseki has now begun the process of firing many of the people responsible, including senior leaders at the Phoenix VA.  He’s canceled any possible performance bonuses this year for VHA senior executives.  And he has ordered the VA to personally contact every veteran in Phoenix waiting for appointments to get them the care that they need and that they deserve. 

The president said he would hold accountable those responsible, and it looks like Shinseki  also made that list.

"Last week, I said that if we found misconduct, it would be punished.  And I meant it", the Commander-in-Chief said.

It just sounds better to say someone turned in their resignation, than to say, 'this morning I fired Secretary Shisenki'.    So, this morning Shisenki 'turned in' his resignation after a review of VA facilities revealed more misconduct that had initially been suspected.

Shinsenki's got to go.

Many had been calling for Shinseki's head for more than a week and today, those people got what they were looking for.   He formally submitted his resignation to the Commander-in-Chief earlier today, to the regret of both parties.

Still, the president highlighted Shinseki's work saying, "...he presided over record investments in our veterans; enrolling two million new veterans in health care, delivering disability pay to more Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, making it easier for veterans with post-traumatic stress, mental health issues and traumatic brain injury to get treatment, improving care for our women veterans.  At the same time, he helped reduce veteran homelessness, and helped more than one million veterans, service members and their families pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.


With reports showing veterans being wait-listed for years before receiving medical attention, faulty numbers showing how many vets actually did receive care, and reports that show the number of veterans that actually died before being seen for medical care, we also now know what Shinseki didn't do.

Those on the left would like to pen the VA debacle on the president who selected Shinseki, the former Army Chief of Staff, to his post as VA Secretary in 2010.   But when your boss hires you to do your job and oversee the nation's VA infrastructure, then that's what you do.


Shinseki, seated 4th from the left, panels a discussion on homeless Americans, including vets.  Photo/CD Brown.
Above is a photo we took in 2010 when the administration announced its Opening Doors initiative to rid homelessness among veterans.  It's interesting to note the smiles on the other panelists' face, but not former secretary Shinseki.  Also interesting to note is the people in the picture who have resigned from the current administration, save for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan (first from the left).

Sloan Gibson will serve as interim VA Secretary.


** Update Monday, June 2, 2014** On Wednesday afternoon, June 4, 2014, as part of the Joining Forces initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama will announce The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. As part of this announcement, the First Lady will highlight leaders from over 80 cities, counties, and states across the country who have committed to ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Sloan Gibson, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs, will also deliver remarks at the event. Mayors from across the country will be in attendance.
 
Jay Carney resigns as Press Secretary


The job of White House Press Secretary isn't an easy one.    One must take on the persistent barrage of tough questions from reporters, all while trying to make your employer look good.




 President  Obama announces Jay Carney is resigning (view at 5:00 mark).

Jay Carney has tried to do that, replacing (and outlasting) his predecessor,
Robert Gibbs, by one year who claimed he needed to "recharge".   Carney replaced Gibbs in 2011 after Gibbs served for two years, from 2009 to 2011. No one has held court longer than Ronald Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, who served eight years from 1981-1989.

Carney, who has been trying to resign since April of this year, says he also needs to 'recharge'.  (Doesn't one usually use a vacation (or a fake sick day) to do that?) 


In 2011 after answering questions about the book, The Obamas, written by Jodi Kantor, a New York Times correspondent with access to certain White House employees who commented on a riff between Gibbs and First Lady Michelle Obama, Carney was quoted as saying, "But these are high-pressure jobs.  There's always a lot at stake.  And the commitment the people show to the President, to the First Lady, and to the causes that brought them here is fierce.  And sometimes that intensity leads people to raise their voices or have sharp exchanges.  But the overall picture is one of remarkable collegiality and a genuine focus." 

We will miss White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who resigned his position today.
He will be replaced by Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
Perhaps Carney, who wants to focus on his family, will accompany his ABC News correspondent wife, Claire Shipman, author of 'Work Less, Achieve More, Live Better' to help promote her new book, Not Working At All  The Confidence Code:  The Science and Art of Self-Assurance - What Women Should Know.
To be precise, it is unclear what career path Mr. Carney will now undertake.  Suffice it to say, however, Carney (a sports fan) will probably spend more time with his son at baseball games, and watching the current NBA playoffs; and we wish him well - which we know he will be.
Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest will replace Carney.

Also on the day at the White House

The Secretary Shinseki and Press Secretary Carney news at the White House today overshadowed the news about the administration's efforts to help young boys stay on the right track.
The President's My Brother's Keeper initiative is designed to help young males in the African American and Latino communities stay on track by providing support to direct their paths to become successful young men.

The president is reaching out to businesses and government entities, and has selected former NBA player Earvin 'Magic' Johnson to lead the charge to continue to determine opportunities for this particular demographic of young boys who struggle with being left out of opportunities for advancement and opportunities.  

The president is also calling on those who would serve as mentors to young people by asking those interested to sign up at WH.gov/mybrotherskeeper.

Over the weeks to come the administration's task force will focus on the initiative's scope, which is to "leverage government, corporate and non-profit programs in order to direct resources and attentions to the unique problems facing young black and Hispanic men.
A 90-day evaluation of the effort has generated with a series of recommendations including improving mentor programs, eliminating harsh disciplinary actions in pre-school, and making sure more boys of color can read at grade level by third grade. It also calls for increasing high school graduation, summer employment, and apprenticeship programs for men to gain entry-level jobs. Finally, the group is working toward reduce racial and ethnic bias in the racial and criminal justice systems."

Read more on the initiative here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Statement by the President on the Passing of Poet Laureate Ms. Maya Angelou

The First Family remarks on the passing of American novelist and poet, Dr. Maya Angelou today.  In his remarks President Obama writes:
When her friend Nelson Mandela passed away last year, Maya Angelou wrote that “No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn.”
Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer. But above all, she was a storyteller – and her greatest stories were true. A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves. In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya.
Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, “flung up to heaven” – and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.
In 2010 Dr. Angelou received the Medal of Freedom award from President Obama (view at 23:25 mark).
After the Sandy Hook Massacre Ms. Angelou responded by saying, "Our country is grieving. Each child who has been slaughtered belongs to each of us and each slain adult is a member of our family. It is impossible to explain the horror to ourselves and to our survivors. We need to hold each other’s hands and look into each other’s eyes and say, “I am sorry.”"

A statement by her son, written on her Facebook page, reads:

Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.  - Guy B. Johnson
Ms. Angelou starred in television and on screen, and is author of several books including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and the acclaimed book Still I Rise, which became one of her more noted American poems.

One of our favorite Maya Angelou quotes is "I have learned that people will forget what you've said, people will forget what you've done, but they will always remember how you made them feel."

Ms. Angelou was 86.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memorial Day 2014 - Remembering, and hopefully helping, U.S. Veterans

On yesterday the nation, once again, took a day to remember its veterans who lost their lives serving their country.  Amid the wreath laying, motorcycles roaring, flags waving, and parades, the fact remains that the country's surviving veterans need help, and the institutions put in place to assist them, are shrouded in incompetency and bureaucracy.

Last year, we spoke to two individuals who are products of the United States armed forces as they told us stories of their families and loved ones who served, and their struggles with the Veterans Administration office to get the services they desperately need.

Outside the Department of Veteran Affairs in Washington, DC on a cold February day, our interviewee had this message for the Department of Veteran Affairs, and President Obama.

"Help the veterans, because they deserve it more than anybody else in this country."



The VA has come under fire (again) for its mismanagement of veterans' cases leaving some vets waiting years before any medical assistance is provided.  Many veterans died waiting for care.  This uproar has called for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shenseki, who just this past weekend stated that veterans could have been getting the care the needed under "non-VA care", which would allow them to seek physician care by non-VA medical personnel.

An idea that has been a long time coming, and announced, to wait-listed veterans.

"It's time", said Republican representative Ann Wagner, and others, who support the idea of veterans being able to go any US medical center for care after a thirty-day wait period.

Over the Memorial Day holiday President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to visit the remaining service men and women in the region.   The administration plans to withdraw all troops by the end of 2016.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden's Joining Forces initiative has worked to help veterans find jobs upon returning to home to civilian life.

"Over that century and a half, in times of war, in times of peace, Americans have come here -- to pay tribute not only to the loved ones who meant the world to them, but to all our heroes, known and unknown.  Here, in perfect military order, lie the patriots who won our freedom and saved the Union.  Here, side-by-side, lie the privates and the generals who defeated fascism and laid the foundation for an American Century.  Here lie the Americans who fought through Vietnam, and those who won a long twilight struggle against communism.  And here, in Section 60, lie men and women who gave their lives to keep our homeland safe over more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan." --- President Barack Obama (Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Day 2014)

Note:  Enter 'veterans' in our search engine at the top of this page for more of our stories on


[Update** 5/30/23014**] Shinseki resigns -
Shinseki meet with President Obama earlier today (May 30, 2014) in a closed meeting. Moments later the president made the announcement in the James Brady briefing room. More firings are expected, as the president said earlier in the week that if there was any misconduct found, it would be dealt with.

"I regret he [Shinseki] has to resign under these circumstances," said President Obama. "It is with considerable regret that I accepted."  Adding, "Our veterans deserve the best."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, 2014

A star studded cast of characters graced the red carpet inside the Washington Hilton Saturday night for the annual, Springtime Hollywood-comes-to-Washington extravaganza that is the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.

The gala awards scholarships to deserving journalism students and recognizes those in the journalism field.

From the WHDC.net website...
"This year's winners for the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award, which recognizes repeated excellence in White House coverage, went to Glenn Thrush of Politico and Brianna Keilar of CNN while winners of the Merriman Smith Memorial Award, which recognizes deadline work in both print and broadcast, honored Peter Baker of the New York Times and Peter Maer of CBS.  The Edgar A. Poe Award, which recognizes coverage of news of national or regional significance, went to  Megan Twohey and a team at Reuters, and a joint work by The Center for Public Integrity in partnership with ABC News. An Honorable mention goes to The Seattle Times and reporter Craig Welch and photographer Steve Ringman."
Awards aside, the event is really about which Hollywood star, or starlet, graces that red carpet - and we saw quite a few -  from the entire cast of Scandal (minus new mom Kerry Washington) to Patrick Duffy of Dallas to comedian/actor Kevin Hart to those Facebook twins to Jessica Simpson sporting her new Weight Watchers figure to ... professional athletes. Oh, yeah, the gridiron gang was in the house!   Richard Sherman, Tony Romo, Russell WilsonTim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Andrew Luck were all front and center.   Even NBA great Kareem Abdul Jabar looked like he was having a great time! 
Check out our red carpet favs: Lupita Nyong'o, Tim Tebow, Sophia Vergara, Andrew Luck, Dianne Lang, and Tony Romo.


 Joel McHale played comedic host with some pretty harsh words, well, for just about everybody and everything; and of course the night wouldn't be complete without President Obama talking about himself, or him dissing the media that loves to cover him.




Nigerian Girls Missing, Thought To Be Sold: What the White House Says Its Doing To Help

"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights" Gloria Steinem

Just two months after the world celebrated International Women's Day, we find that more than 200 Nigerian girls have been kidnapped and thought to be sold by the infamous Islamic Jihadist group, Boko Haram.

Nigeria is calling for the help of all nations to help in finding and releasing the young girls, many of whom are under the age of seventeen.

During conversations at yesterday's White House press briefing, the subject of what the United States is doing to assist Nigeria in the search and rescue efforts to find the missing girls and bring them home, Press Secretary Carney stated, "What I can tell you is that we view what has happened there as an outrage and a terrible tragedy.  The President has been briefed several times and his national security team continues to monitor the situation there closely.  The State Department has been in regular touch with the Nigerian government about what we might do to help support its efforts to find and free these young women."
    

 



Even First Lady Michelle Obama is making a statement, tweeting "Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It's time to #BringBackOurGirls." -mo





On Tuesday, the White House says it is prepared to send a team of 'advisors' and 'negotiators' to Nigeria to assist the country with rescue efforts.

Here are excerpts from that exchange.


     Q    And also, there have been some calls today for the Nigerian President to accept international help that’s now been offered by the U.S. and by Britain.  Does the White House feel like Nigeria is open to the help that is out there?  And is it cooperating with efforts coming from elsewhere?

     MR. CARNEY:  I’m glad you asked, because this morning, Secretary Kerry called Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to reiterate our offer of assistance.  President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry’s offer to send a team to Nigeria to discuss how the United States can best support Nigeria in its response to this horrific event, these kidnappings. 

Our embassy is prepared to form an interdisciplinary team that could provide expertise on intelligence investigations and hostage negotiations, could help facilitate information sharing and provide victim assistance.  It would include U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations, as well as officials with expertise in other areas that may be helpful to the Nigerian government in its response.  President Obama has directed that we do everything we can to help the Nigerian government find and free these girls.  The President and Secretary Kerry will discuss this very issue in their meeting later today.
 Q    Can I follow up on that?

     MR. CARNEY:  Yes, Ann.
     Q    Are you saying that the United States is actually going to send an additional -- offer of personnel?  Seven months ago, when President Obama and President Jonathan sat down together in New York, President Obama said that we want to be cooperative in the process of building the capacity inside of Nigeria to deal with this dangerous group.

     MR. CARNEY:  With Boko Haram.

     Q    Yes. 

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, that is certainly the case.

     Q    What has happened in the last --

     MR. CARNEY:  This is in addition to -- this is the product of a conversation that Secretary Kerry had with the Nigerian President this morning, where he reiterated our offer of assistance.  And President Jonathan welcomed Secretary Kerry’s offer to send a team to Nigeria to discuss how the U.S. can help Nigeria in its response to this specific incident.  So this would be a team that would be focused on this issue, not just on the broader Boko Haram challenge that Nigeria faces. 

     Q    How would the United States assess what the Nigerian government has done so far?  Has it been enough?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, what I can tell you is that it is certainly Nigeria’s responsibility to maintain the safety and security of its citizens.  These girls were captured and kidnapped 22 days ago and time is of the essence.  Appropriate action must be taken to locate and to free these young women before they are trafficked or killed.

     We urge the Nigerian government to ensure that it is bringing all appropriate resources to bear in a concerted effort to ensure their safe return.  We are absolutely committed to helping Nigeria, but it is the Nigerian government’s responsibility, first and foremost, to maintain the safety and security of its citizens.  And we urge the Nigerian government to take action to ensure that it is bringing all appropriate resources to bear in the effort to find them and free them.

     Q    There are U.S. forces on the ground in Africa looking for Joseph Kony.  Can you imagine American resources being used in that kind of sense? 

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’re not considering at this point military resources.  We would urge Nigeria to ensure that any operation to free the girls would protect civilians and human rights. 

Related
Congresswomen united, appeal for safe return of Nigerian girls.  "There's a special place in hell" for Boko Haram.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

President Obama meets Djibouti president; demonstrators protest



President Obama met with Djibouti's president Ismail Omar Guelleh on Monday at the White House where the two (per the White House press office) "discussed their shared vision for addressing human capital and economic development challenges in Djibouti." 



The president praised Guelleh for his commitment to lowering unemployment, reducing poverty, and improving reliable access to energy, potable water, and health care.






Photos/CD Brown

The United States pledged to increase technical and financial assistance to the Djiboutian people and to invest in Djibouti’s development priorities.  President Obama pledged to expand U.S.-sponsored workforce education and training to help strengthen Djibouti’s workforce and set a foundation for expanded employment and private sector investment.




While Guelleh was receiving praise on the inside of the White House, demonstrators  on the outside protested the visit to shed light on the Djibouti's human rights violations.   Displeased that President Obama chose to meet with what the protesters called "an evil dictator" the protesters shouted chants of "Shame on Obama!" for meeting with who they call "an evil dictator" that allows human rights violations and torture of its citizens.

The demonstrators were also protesting the country's lack of freedom of the press that has long been dominated by the government that is Guelleh.



"Djibouti has only one newspaper and one television station", said "Muhammad", one protester before running off to shout at the passing motorcade with Guelleh inside. 

Reporters are discouraged from reporting anything in opposition of the Djibouti government; many have been tortured, or killed.

Djibouti is a small country located in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.  The country hosts Camp Lemonier, the sole U.S. Military base in Africa near the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Paul Ryan says he recognizes "a culture"...(in a culture he knows nothing about)

So, the last time Paul Ryan visited an "inner city" was when?   The last time Paul Ryan talked to a group of African American men, in any "inner city" was when?


Long line in a Sodexho food service job fair. Photo/ John Spink of the AC Journal.
We'll have to assume Paul Ryan doesn't spend a lot of time in inner cities, since he is a part of a crowd that does everything it can to disenfranchise residents of inner cities.

Yes, the unemployment rate in inner cities across the country is high.  But it isn't because men of color don't want to work, as Ryan suggests when he stated the following on a a conservative talk radio show.

Said Ryan, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work, so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”


Veterans crowd the "Hiring Our Heroes" job fair at the Palm Beach County Convention Center 

Wow.  "Not even thinking about working."

I'd say Ryan is" not even thinking about" what he is saying.

If you look at images from any job fair, you will see that most applicants are  African American, with any number of African American males present.  

Take a look at this 2013 news interview about a Philadelphia job fair where thousands of African American men (and women) turned out, looking for work (and thinking about work) but were eventually turned away because of the overwhelming number of people looking. The event was an unofficial, unannounced job fair for ex-offenders.   Even so, many African Americans, from all walks of life, turned out in hopes of finding a job.




Perhaps what Ryan should "deal with" instead, is the growing, persistent Donald Sterling-like attitude of Congress.  Ryan and his "culture" of ignorant, right winged conservatives, instead of cutting resources that would actually help those on hard times, should instead agree to raising the minimum wage above $10 an hour, and provide resources to help the poor, instead of victimizing the poor over, and over, and over again. 

Shame on you Ryan.   As the saying goes, if you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Ryan, who claims his comments had nothing to do with race (while talking about inner cities) met this week with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to spew more lies about what he really said.  He even tried to plead ignorant by saying, "“We have to be cognizant of how people hear things,” Ryan said. “For instance, when I think of ‘inner city,’ I think of everyone. 

Paul Ryan is the only one who thinks this way.  Even Merriam Webster knows the definition of 'inner city'.

I'll bet if we ask John Boehner if he lives in the inner city, he won't say, "Yes."

Ryan went on to say, "I don’t just think of one race. It doesn’t even occur to me that it could come across as a racial statement, but that’s not the case, apparently … What I learned is that there’s a whole language and history that people are very sensitive to, understandably so. We just have to better understand. You know, we’ll be a little clumsy, but it’s with the right intentions behind it.”

"Clumsy", and ignorant, he was.

Give me a break, and Paul Ryan an African American history lesson, or two, and a town hall meeting with African American men, in any U.S. "inner city".

He should start with the nation's capital.