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

Saturday, December 19, 2015

President Obama's year-end presser, pressed by Star Wars

Not even the President of the United States could escape 'the force' of Star Wars.

"Clearly this is not the most pressing event at the White House", the president said as he began his traditional year-end press conference with the media.

"There's a screening of Star Wars taking place in the White House for Gold Star families and their children, so I'll try to be relatively succinct."

Star Wars storm troopers join White House staffers outside the White House on Friday.
The president gave his review of his administration's accomplishments where he lauded health care, criminal justice reform, and decreased unemployment.

President Obama, speaking during his year-end media presser, appears to be giving
a 'thumbs up' while speaking on the accomplishments of his administration.
"As I look back on this year, one thing I see so much of is that our steady, persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people, in a big tangible way."

The president told the packed room of reporters that private sector jobs increased to 13.7 million while unemployment decreased from ten percent to five percent.

"More importantly", the president said, "wages grew faster than [at] any time since the recovery began."

On the subject of health care the president said that health care prices have gone to their lowest levels in five decades and that more Americans have health care coverage than at any other time.

"17 million Americans now have coverage and we now know that six million people have signed up for health care through for coverage beginning on January 1st; 600,000 on Tuesday alone", the president said.

The president fielded questions from reporters on foreign policy issues - most notably, ISIS: "We're going to defeat ISIS", he said. He also spoke on criminal justice reform.  The president granted pardons to 95 inmates this week, many who were serving life sentences for non-violent drug offenses.

After about an hour of Q&A the president served up an, "I gotta get to Star Wars" and wished the attended media a "Merry Christmas everyone; have fun with your family."

The president also departed, with his family, for his winter vacation to Hawaii later in the afternoon, but not before stopping to meet with families of the San Bernadino shootings in California.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients Named

Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                              
November 16, 2015        

President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama named seventeen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House on November 24th.

President Obama said, “I look forward to presenting these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation’s highest civilian honor. From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans.”

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Yogi Berra (posthumous)
Yogi Berra spent over 40 years as a professional baseball catcher, manager, and coach. Widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history – and an all-time Yankee great – Berra was an 18-time All-Star and 10-time World Series Champion who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. Always quick witted, Berra was famous for his “Yogi-isms,” teaching us all that we can observe a lot just by watching. Berra was also a lifelong ambassador for inclusion in sports. Berra put his professional career on hold to join the Navy during World War II, where he fought with Allied forces on D-Day and eventually earned a Purple Heart.

Bonnie Carroll
Bonnie Carroll is a life-long public servant who has devoted her life to caring for our military and veterans. After her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992, Carroll founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides comprehensive support to those impacted by the death of their military hero, bringing healing comfort and compassionate care to the living legacies of our nation's service and sacrifice. Carroll is also a retired Major in the Air Force Reserve. She serves on the Defense Health Board, and co-chaired the Department of Defense Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide in the Armed Forces.

Shirley Chisholm (posthumous)
Shirley Chisholm made history in 1968 by becoming the first African-American woman elected to Congress, beginning the first of seven terms in the House of Representatives. In 1969 she became one of the founding members of what would become the Congressional Black Caucus. Not satisfied, Chisholm went on to make history yet again, becoming the first major-party African-American female candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency when she ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972. She was a champion of minority education and employment opportunities throughout her tenure in Congress. After leaving Congress in 1983, Chisolm taught at Mount Holyoke College and frequently lectured and gave speeches at colleges and universities throughout the country.

Emilio Estefan
Emilio Estefan is a passionate and visionary music producer, entrepreneur, author, and songwriter who has won nineteen Grammy Awards and influenced a generation of artists. As the founding member of the Miami Sound Machine, and later through a decades-long career producing and shaping the work of countless stars, Estefan has helped popularize Latin music around the world.  He has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Emilio Estefan is an inductee to the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Gloria Estefan
Gloria Estefan is a singer, songwriter, actor, and entrepreneur who introduced Latin music to a global audience. The Cuban-American lead singer of the Miami Sound Machine has had chart topping hits such as “Conga,” “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” and “Anything for You.” Estefan has won seven Grammy Awards and is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide. She is an inductee to the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Estefan became one of the first mainstream Hispanic artists to crossover between English and Spanish language music paving the way for countless other Latin artists to follow.

Billy Frank, Jr. (posthumous)
Billy Frank, Jr. was a tireless advocate for Indian treaty rights and environmental stewardship, whose activism paved the way for the “Boldt decision,” which reaffirmed tribal co-management of salmon resources in the state of Washington. Frank led effective “fish-ins,” which were modeled after sit-ins of the civil rights movement, during the tribal “fish wars” of the 1960s and 1970s. His magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than five decades made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad. Frank was the recipient of many awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award for Humanitarian Achievement. Frank left in his wake an Indian Country strengthened by greater sovereignty and a nation fortified by his example of service to one’s community, his humility, and his dedication to the principles of human rights and environmental sustainability.

Lee Hamilton
Lee Hamilton has been one of the most influential voices on international relations and American national security over the course of his more than 40 year career. From 1965 to 1999, he served Indiana in the United States House of Representatives, where his chairmanships included the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran. Since retiring from Congress, Hamilton has been involved in efforts to address some of our nation’s most high profile homeland security and foreign policy challenges. He served as Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission and Co-Chairman of the Iraq Study Group. He was Co-Chairman of the Independent Task Force on Immigration and America’s Future, which issued a report in 2006 calling for reform of the nation’s immigration laws and system. And through the founding of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, he has also been a leading advocate for bi-partisanship and effective governance.

Katherine G. Johnson
Katherine G. Johnson is a pioneer in American space history. A NASA mathematician, Johnson's computations have influenced every major space program from Mercury through the Shuttle program. Johnson was hired as a research mathematician at the Langley Research Center with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that preceded NASA, after they opened hiring to African-Americans and women. Johnson exhibited exceptional technical leadership and is known especially for her calculations of the 1961 trajectory for Alan Shepard’s flight (first American in space), the 1962 verification of the first flight calculation made by an electronic computer for John Glenn’s orbit (first American to orbit the earth), and the 1969 Apollo 11 trajectory to the moon. In her later NASA career, Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite and encouraged students to pursue careers in science and technology fields.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays was a professional baseball player, spending most of his 22 seasons as a center fielder for the New York and San Francisco Giants. Mays ended his career with 660 home runs, making him the fifth all-time record-holder. Known as “The Say Hey Kid,” Mays was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 and landed on MLB’s All-Time team. In 1951, Mays became one of the first African-American players in Major League Baseball history and won the Rookie of the Year award. Mays also served his country in the United States Army. In his return to Major League Baseball, Mays won the MVP award, and in the 1954 World Series Mays led the Giants to a surprise victory, while making one of the most spectacular plays in sports history, later known simply as “The Catch.”   

Barbara Mikulski
Barbara Mikulski is a lifelong public servant, who has held elected office since 1971. She became the longest serving female Senator in 2011, the longest serving woman in Congress in 2012, and the first female Senator to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2012. Applying what she witnessed in her early career as a social worker and community activist in Baltimore, Maryland to her time in office, Senator Mikulski championed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and helped establish the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health to include women in federally-funded health research protocols. She also helped to make college more affordable by reforming and increasing Pell grants and student loans and wrote the law that prevents seniors from going bankrupt while paying for a spouse’s nursing home care. She championed investments in research and innovation, most notably saving the Hubble Space Telescope. She is dean of the bipartisan Senate women, serving as their mentor.

Itzhak Perlman
Itzhak Perlman is a treasured conductor and sought-after teacher. Among his many achievements are four Emmy Awards, 16 Grammy Awards, and the 2008 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was awarded a National Medal of Arts in 2000 and a Kennedy Center Honor in 2003. A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18. In addition to performing internationally and recording the classical music for which he is best known, Perlman has also played jazz, including an album made with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Perlman has been the soloist for a number of film scores such as Schindler's List, which subsequently won an Academy Award for Best Original Score.  Alongside his wife Toby, Mr. Perlman teaches talented young musicians through the Perlman Music Program.  Through his advocacy and his example, he has been an important voice on behalf of persons with disabilities.

William Ruckelshaus
William D. Ruckelshaus is a dedicated public servant who has worked tirelessly to protect public health and combat global challenges like climate change. As the first and fifth Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, under Presidents Nixon and Reagan, he not only shaped the guiding principles of the agency, but also worked diligently to bring the public into the decision making process. Among the EPA’s key early achievements under his leadership was a nationwide ban on the pesticide DDT and an agreement with the automobile industry to require catalytic converters, which significantly reduced automobile pollution. He also demonstrated his commitment to public service and integrity as Deputy Attorney General. During the Watergate crisis, Ruckelshaus and Attorney General Elliot Richardson chose to resign rather than fire the Watergate special prosecutor. Their principled stance was a pivotal moment for the Justice Department and galvanized public opinion for upholding the rule of law. He continues to advance his legacy of collaborative problem solving in his current role at the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim is one of the country’s most influential theater composers and lyricists. His work has helped define American theater with shows such as CompanyWest Side Story, Gypsy, Sweeney ToddSunday in the Park withGeorge, and Into the Woods. Sondheim has received eight Grammy Awards, eight Tony Awards, an Academy Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  Sondheim also founded Young Playwrights, Inc., to develop and promote the work of American playwrights aged 18 and younger.

Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg is an American film director, producer, philanthropist, and entrepreneur.  Spielberg's films include blockbusters such as Jaws, Jurassic Park, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and the Indiana Jones series, as well as socially conscious works Schindler’s ListSaving Private RyanLincoln, and his newest film Bridge of Spies.  A three-time Academy Award winner, Spielberg is widely considered one of the most influential filmmakers in cinematic history. His films have grossed over 8.5 billion dollars worldwide.  Spielberg is the co-founder of DreamWorks Studios as well as the founder of the USC Shoah Foundation, an organization dedicated to overcoming intolerance and bigotry through the use of visual history testimony.

Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand is one of our Nation’s most gifted talents. Her body of work includes extraordinary singing, acting, directing, producing, songwriting, and she is one of the few performers to receive an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony. Her performance in 1968’s Funny Girl endeared her to Americans for generations, and she won her first Academy Award for her role in that film. In 1984, she became the first woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Director, which she won for the motion picture Yentl. Streisand is also a recipient of four Peabody Awards, in addition to the National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center Honors. In 2009, she endowed the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, which works to correct gender inequality in the research of a disease which each year kills more women than men.

James Taylor
As a recording and touring artist, James Taylor has touched people with his warm baritone voice and distinctive style of guitar-playing for more than 40 years, while setting a precedent to which countless young musicians have aspired.  Over the course of his celebrated songwriting and performing career, Taylor has sold more than 100 million albums, earning gold, platinum and multi-platinum awards for classics ranging from Sweet Baby James in 1970 to October Road in 2002.  In 2015 Taylor released Before This World, his first new studio album in thirteen years, which earned him his first ever #1 album.  He has won multiple Grammy awards and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame. 

Minoru Yasui (posthumous)
Minoru Yasui was a civil and human rights leader known for his continuous defense of the ideals of democracy embodied in our Constitution. A graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law, Yasui challenged the constitutionality of a military curfew order during World War II on the grounds of racial discrimination, and spent nine months in solitary confinement during the subsequent legal battle. In 1943, the Supreme Court upheld the military curfew order. Yasui spent the rest of his life appealing his wartime conviction. At the time of his death in 1986, he had successfully convinced a trial court to vacate his arrest, and a case challenging the constitutionality of his conviction was pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Yasui also spent his life fighting for the human and civil rights of all people.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Media rushed to set up for Vice President Biden's, I'm not going to run, announcement

(Politics. On Point) - Vice President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he will not run in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Said Biden, "As my family and I have worked through the grieving process, I’ve said all along what I've said time and again to others, that it may very well be that that process, by the time we get through it, closes the window on mounting a realistic campaign for President, that it might close.  I've concluded it has closed", he said.

Vice President Biden, along with President Obama and wife Dr. Jill Biden, in the Rose Garden of the White House Wednesday as Biden announces he is not running for president.
The Bidens lost their son Beau earlier this year, an event that some said would be reason the vice president would run for president, but the vice president made his position, and decison, clear.

"Unfortunately, I believe we're out of time -- the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination", he said.  "But while I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent.  I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully, to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation."

The vice president quickly moved the spotlight of a potential presidential run to issues currently facing American.  In a moment of pope-ism he touched on many of the malladies facing America:

"I also believe we need to keep moving forward in the arc of this nation toward justice -- the rights of the LGBT community, immigration reform, equal pay for women and protecting their safety from violence, rooting out institutional racism.  At their core, every one of these things -- every one of these things is about the same thing.  It’s about equality.  It’s about fairness. It’s about respect.  As my dad used to say, it’s about affording every single person dignity.  It’s not complicated.  Every single one of these issues is about dignity."

Raw video - Washington Post

Biden also said that America is capable of extraordinary things.  "We can do so much", he said.

Republicans have tried to thwart much of the legislation the Obama administration has tried to pass and continues to seek a replacement for its current speaker, John Boehner, who plans to step down later this year.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) sent out an email Tuesday titled, "I've had it with Congressional Republicans", perhaps indicating her frustration with the Republican party.

Her email states, "From playing politics with women's access to health care to using the tragedy in Benghazi as a partisan stunt, Republicans are giving Congress a bad name -- and I've had it."

[Democratic presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, testifies on Captial Hill on Benghazi Thursday].

While Wasserman Schultz may have "had it" with Republicans, VP Biden is optimistic and said that the Republicans aren't the enemy.

"I don’t think we should look at Republicans as our enemies", Biden said.  "They are our opposition; they’re not our enemies.  And for the sake of the country, we have to work together."

On being president, Biden made clear what that would be.

"If I could be anything, I would want it to be the president that ended cancer."

Biden lauded the record of President Obama and urged Democrats to defend the president's record.

"I believe that President Obama has led this nation from crisis to recovery, and we're now on the cusp of resurgence.  I'm proud to have played a part in that", Biden said.

"This party, our nation will be making a tragic mistake if we walk away or attempt to undo the Obama legacy.  The American people have worked too hard and we've come too far for that. Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record, they should run on the record."

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Upcoming Guidance for First Lady Michelle Obama

(Politics. On Point) - In support of her Let Girls Learn initiative, the First Lady will welcome to the White House Mrs. Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif, spouse of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and Mrs. Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the press office of the first lady has announced.

At this event in the Blue Room, the First Lady will deliver brief remarks announcing a new partnership to further adolescent girls’ education in Pakistan. In addition, there will be a performance by students from the Washington Performing Arts Society Children’s Choir. Mrs. Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif, spouse of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and Mrs. Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. 

The visit of Mrs. Sharif comes as her husband Prime Minister Sharif  meets with President Obama for a bilateral meeting that will highlight the "enduring nature of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and provide an opportunity to strengthen our cooperation on issues of mutual interest, including economic growth, trade and investment, clean energy,  global health, climate change, nuclear security, counterterrorism, and regional stability", the White House announced Wednesday.

Better make room

Earlier this week the first lady ushered in Better Make Roomanother of her educational initiatives. An event was held at the University of Akron, Oh and featured NBA star LeBron James.  

The initiative focuses on allowing students to creatively "commit to their futures", the White House web site states. 

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

President Obama on Duke's Krzyzewski: "He's got potential."

(Politics. On Point) - President Obama honored the Duke Blue Devils at the White House on Tuesday. Duke won the NCAA title in a come-from-behind contest against Wisconsin, 66-63. The Blue Devils and their coach, Mike Krzyzewski, know a few things about winning national titles.

The president said of Kryzyewski, "We think he's got potential", calling him an "up-and-coming" coach.

Watch below to see how Kryzyewski responds.


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VP and AG Announce Initiative to Address Backlog of Untested Sexual Assault Kits

From the White Press Office

NEW YORK, NY – Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch today announced $41 million in grant awards to 20 jurisdictions to eliminate or reduce the number of untested sexual assault kits across the country.  Today’s announcement is being announced as part of an unprecedented partnership with the New York County District Attorney’s Office (DANY) – whose own grant program is contributing $38 million to the cause for a total of $79 million to eliminate the backlog reaching 43 jurisdictions in 27 states across the country.

“Rape kits are an essential tool in modern crime fighting — not only for the victim, but, for the entire community. Studies show we solve up to 50 percent of previously unsolved rapes when these kits are tested. When we solve these cases, we get rapists off the streets. For most survivors, seeing their rapists brought to justice, and knowing that they will not return, brings peace of mind and a sense of closure. The grants we’re announcing today to reduce the national rape kit backlog will bring that sense of closure and safety to victims while improving community safety,” Vice President Biden said.

“The groundbreaking initiative we are announcing today is part of the Justice Department’s longstanding efforts to support survivors of sexual violence and to bring abusers to justice,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  “For anyone who has felt isolated and afraid, left out and left behind as a result of a sexual crime, our message is clear: we will not forget you.  We will not abandon you.  You are not alone.”

The National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, a competitive grant program administered by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), supports the comprehensive reform of jurisdictions’ approaches to evidence found in sexual assault kits that have never been submitted to a crime laboratory for testing. BJA created the initiative in consultation with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Office for Victims of Crime, (OVC), and Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).  The goals of the initiative are to create a coordinated community response that ensures just resolution to these cases whenever possible through a victim-centered approach, as well as to build jurisdictions’ capacity to prevent conditions that lead to high numbers of untested kits. The funding awarded through DANY’s program will pay directly for testing kits, and the combined effort between BJA and DANY is projected to achieve testing of approximately 70,000 sexual assault kits. BJA and DANY partnered to reach as many jurisdictions as possible and also to identify jurisdictions where funding could be combined to adequately address kit backlogs.

The initiative is part of the Justice Department’s larger ongoing effort to comprehensively address the problem of sexual assault and to support victims.  For example, NIJ maintains a webpage on Sexual Assault Investigations, Sexual Assault Kits: Using Science to Find Solutionswhich provides information ranging from improving forensic sexual assault examinations to  research findings on untested evidence in sexual assault cases.  OVC provides a Sexual Assault Response Team Toolkit, which has over 1.4 million views to date and includes a checklist of recommendations for victim-centered policies and practices in developing a sexual assault response. OVW updated the National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations and released a companion document on Recommendations for Administrators of Prisons, Jails, and Community Confinement Facilities for Adapting the U.S. Department of Justice's National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, Adults/Adolescents.

Since 2008, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has provided more than $825 million for DNA analysis in crime laboratories and for activities such as research dedicated to strengthening the accuracy and reliability of forensic science.

A complete listing of today’s federal award recipients can be found here 

A complete listing of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Initiative awards can be found here.

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Upcoming guidance for First Lady Michelle Obama

As part of her Let’s Move! initiative, the First Lady will welcome 63 local elected officials and representatives from across the country on Wednesday, September 16, 2015 to celebrate their commitment to building healthier communities.

At the event, the First Lady will commemorate Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties, reaching 500 communities, resulting in nearly 80 million Americans impacted by the program. Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National League of Cities, calls upon local elected officials to adopt long-term, sustainable and holistic approaches to addressing childhood obesity. 

Each local elected official has pledged to achieve the following five goals to promote healthy living throughout the community:

1)      Helping early care and education providers incorporate best practices for nutrition and physical activity
2)      Displaying USDA’s MyPlate in all municipal or county venues where food is served
3)      Expanding access to meal programs before, during and after the school day, and/or over summer months
4)      Implementing healthy and sustainable food service guidelines that are aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans
5)      Increasing opportunities for physical activity

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Hurricane Katrina - 10 Years Later

President Obama praises New Orleans' comeback; says "more to do."

"We must honor their memory each day by rebuilding, and improving, the piece of America they called home."  -  President Obama

Honor Katrina's victims by continuing to rebuild a stronger community: President Barack Obama
By Barack Obama
on August 29, 2015 at 6:45 AM

President Obama chats with a young girl during his visit in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans.
Credit: White House photo/Pete Souza.
On Thursday (Aug. 27), I traveled to New Orleans to mark 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated communities across the Gulf Coast and shook America. A visit to the Lower Ninth Ward would have seemed unimaginable in the storm's immediate aftermath, but today the waters have receded — replaced by a region that is moving forward. Over the past 10 years, folks across the Gulf Coast have displayed the spirit of resilience that our country was founded on— building back stronger and dreaming bigger than before.

We know there is more to do — but the progress I witnessed firsthand in New Orleans, and the progress that has been replicated by committed, driven Americans throughout the Gulf Coast, is a testament to what's possible when, in the face of tragedy and hardship, good people come together to lend a hand, and to build a better future.

My administration has been focused from day one on continuing and expediting the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the wake of the storm, and on investing in the people of the Gulf Coast. And we're applying the lessons we learned across the country.  If Katrina was an example of what happens when government fails, the recovery has been an example of what's possible when government works with local communities as a true partner.

New Orleans residents celebrate ten-year anniversary of Katrina with a parade.  Photo credit: Douglas Adams, Jr.
Together, we've delivered resources to help Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida rebuild schools, hospitals, roads, police and fire stations, and historic buildings and museums.  And we're building smarter, from elevating homes to retrofitting buildings to improving drainage, so that our communities are better prepared for the next storm. We're transforming education, encouraging entrepreneurship and helping to ensure that everyone has access to great healthcare.

In the wake of Katrina, America's challenge was not to restore things to the way they were. Our goal was to rebuild a city and a region as it should be — a place where everyone, no matter who they are, what they look like, or how much money they have, has an opportunity to make it.

We've come a long way in that respect, but there's more work to do when too many of our children live in poverty and when, in New Orleans, typical black households earn about half the income of white households. There's more to do when too many people have yet to find good, affordable housing or a job. There's more work to do when too many proud Gulf Coast residents have not yet been able to return to the place they love.

That's why we're working across the region to help ensure access to affordable housing for low-income families. It's why we're fighting poverty, revitalizing neighborhoods and investing in public safety. It's why we believe in programs like My Brother's Keeper, an initiative devoted to making sure that all young people, especially our boys and young men of color, have the opportunity to achieve their potential.

We know that after every storm, the sun comes out. And I know that in the face of every crisis, Americans come out, band together and build back.

That's how the Gulf Coast responded to Katrina. That's how our nation has come back from the economic brink of seven years ago. Because of the grit and determination of the American people, our businesses have created 13 million new jobs over 65 straight months, and our unemployment rate has fallen from 10 percent to 5.3 percent.  The uninsured rate is at an all-time low, while the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high.  We've cut our deficits by two-thirds.  We've ended two wars, and gone from nearly 180,000 brave American troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to fewer than 15,000.  We've launched a clean energy revolution that will help save this planet. And with the freedom to marry who you love, our nation has become a little more just.

That's not just progress. It's real change — and it doesn't come easy.

So we'll keep working. Because, it's not enough to remember the more than 1,800 men, women, and children — our fellow citizens — who lost their lives 10 years ago. We must honor their memory each day by rebuilding, and improving, the piece of America they called home.

It won't be easy, but the extraordinary resolve of the folks I met this week remind us why we are up to the task of forging a better future. These Americans live the basic value that defines this country — a value we have been reminded of in these past 10 years as we've come back from a crisis that changed your region, and an economic crisis that spread throughout the nation — the notion that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.  That we look out for each other, because we are all in this together.

If we stay focused on that common purpose; if we remember our responsibilities to ourselves and our obligations to one another; then from Texas to Florida, we can rebuild a region, and a nation, that's worthy of our children, and worthy of the generations to come.

NOLA Rebirth Chronicled on Instagram

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Former Republican majority leader, Eric Cantor, endorses Jeb Bush for president

Eric Cantor endorsed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush Thursday evening.

Cantor tweeted earlier Thursday that he was "AllinforJeb."

Cantor is the former Republican majority leader who lost to David Brat, a Virginia professor - and tea-party backer - in the 2014 Virginia House primaries.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted of the Cantor endorsement, "Who wants the endorsement of a guy (@EricCantor) who lost in perhaps the greatest upset in the history of Congress?”

The two presidential candidates have sparred on the issue of immigration. Bush, who is married to a Mexican-American, used the term 'anchor babies' when speaking about illegal immigrants giving birth in America so their children can become citizens.  

He tried 'defending' himself by saying the term didn't apply to Mexicans, but rather Asians (another group who will probably not vote for him, further limiting his chances to become president of the United States).

Bush claims to run his campaign on transparency and is using the Twitter hashtag #JebNoFilter, coinciding with his e-book of the same name that reveals emails he says were sent to constituents while serving as governor of Florida. (Perhaps a stab at the events surrounding emails of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State). 

Thursday's endorsement event was held at Richmond, Virginia's Jefferson Hotel where a modest crowd of supporters attended.  The two met at the same hotel in February of this year, also for a fundraising event.

An attendee said Bush plans to "reach out to young people", offering them "opportunities."

Another attendee called Bush "compassionate", while yet another said Bush, "doesn't lie."

Bush is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser in Virginia Beach on Friday.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Civil rights activist, American icon, Julian Bond dies at 75

Civil rights activist Julian Bond died Saturday in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

Reports indicate that Bond died from vascular disease.

Julian Bond.   Getty photo.

Bond was Chairman Emeritus of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).   

“From his days as a young activist to his years as both an elder statesman and NAACP Chairman Emeritus, Julian Bond inspired a generation of civil rights leaders", wrote current NAACP chairman Roslyn M. Brock in a statement Sunday. 

“From my days as a youth board member of the NAACP to my present tenure as NAACP Chairman, like so many of my generation and before, I am yet inspired by the depth and breadth of Chairman Emeritus Bond’s exemplary service: activist, writer, historian, professor, public intellectual, public servant and an unrelentingly eloquent voice for the voiceless. The grateful citizen heirs of the civil and human rights legacy of Julian Bond can neither be counted nor confined to a generation. Many of the most characteristically American freedoms enjoyed by so many Americans today were made real because of the lifelong sacrifice and service of Julian Bond.” 

[See Julian Bond, John Lewis, 1986 article.]

Among his many accolades Bond was also a Georgia state senator and nominee for U.S. Vice President.

"The arc of service of Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond's life extends high and wide over America's social justice landscape", said current NAACP president Cornell William Brooks.

Bond also co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee formed by a group of college students who helped orchestrate sit-ins in the south.  (Think today's Black Lives Matter movement.)

Bond was a fierce advocate for the rights of African Americans and also for the rights of gay and lesbians.

During our interview with him on the eve of the dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. Bond shared, among other items, that it was a gay, Bayard Rustin who orchestrated King's March on Washington in the 1960s.

He also shared that King would be "dismayed" at the treatment of gays of lesbians and that all are equal under the law.

Leader of the National Action Network, Reverend Al Sharpton called Bond “a trailblazer for equality and inclusion."

President Obama called Bond "a hero" and "a friend" saying both he and the first lady have benefited from his "example" and "counsel."

"Julian Bond helped change this country for the better", the president said. 

"And what better way to be remembered than that."

Bond was 75.  

He leaves behind his second wife, Pamela Horowitz and four grown children: daughter Phyllis Bond-McMillan, and sons Michael, Horace and Jeffery Bond.

For more, see full NAACP Bond bio.

Updated August 17, 2015.

The Obamas help friend, Vernon Jordan, celebrate his 80th birthday

The White House issued the following pool report as the Obamas continue their vacation on Martha's Vineyard -- helping close friend, Vernon Jordan, celebrate his 80th birthday.

From the White House:

"Tonight, the First Family attended the 80th birthday celebration for Vernon Jordan, Jr. at the Farm Neck Golf Club. There were approximately 200 guests in attendance.

"The President and First Lady have known the Jordans for over twenty years, and were grateful to have sat with Ann and other guests this evening.

"Toasts were offered between courses. Ann Jordan offered the first toast, welcoming guests and honoring her husband. President Obama then toasted Vernon extolling his kindness and generosity.

The President told attendees that Vernon's wisdom and enthusiasm are rare qualities.

"Third and fourth toasts were offered by President Clinton and Vickee Jordan, respectively.

"Other guests tonight included Morgan Freeman, Brian Roberts, Henry Louis Gates, Ken Chenault, Valerie Jarrett, and Capricia Marshall. Tonight's menu included salad, surf and turf, and birthday cake."

The president, as you might have expected, has been playing several rounds of golf and has included the likes of Jordan, Bill Kirk and former president Bill Clinton.

Side bar.  Morgan Freeman's step-granddaughter was found stabbed to death in New York Sunday morning.

Said Freeman, "her star will continue to shine in our hearts, thoughts and prayers."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Voting Rights Act: "We're still trying to build a democracy."

The president commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).


"There are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote."


A candid conversation on the VRA

Entrepreneurs pitch their product, service during White House 'Demo Day'

Demo Day is normally done in the presence of wealthy Venture Capitalists (VCs) where entrepreneurs pitch (or demonstrate) their product or service idea in hopes of receiving funding (and recognition) to take their business idea to the next level.  

On Tuesday, in the first ever Demo Day, entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to the president of the United States.

President Obama with Demo Day entrepreneurs.  Photos/CD Brown.
The event brought together minority and women-owned businesses, a demographic that often faces more barriers receiving funding.

A study revealed that fewer than 3 percent of venture capital-backed companies have a woman as their CEO, while yet another study revealed that fewer than 1 percent have an African American founder. 

"We’ve got to make sure that everybody is getting a fair shot", said President Obama, "not leave more than half the team on the bench."

The president has received commitments from nearly 50 businesses to help level the playing field for minority and women-owned business.  

The administration has also worked with the Small Business Administration in its Startup In A Day campaign to help entrepreneurs with registering and applying for business permits and licenses.

A few businesses on hand during Demo Day included PartPicSword and Plough, and Cocoon Cam.

Demo  Day fast facts:  

§  Announcing 116 winners of two Small Business Administration prizes that promise to unleash entrepreneurship in communities across the country: the Growth Accelerator Fund for startup accelerators, incubators, and other entrepreneurial ecosystems; and the President’s “Startup in a Day” initiative that will empower mayors to cut red tape for local entrepreneurs.
§  Scaling up the National Science Foundation I-Corps program with eight new and expanded Federal agency partnerships, introducing hundreds of entrepreneurial scientist teams across the country to a rigorous process for moving their discoveries out of the lab and into the marketplace.
The independent commitments being announced today include, among others:
§  Expanding the response to the President’s TechHire initiative with 10 new cities and states working with employer partners on new ways to recruit and place applicants based on their skills, create more accelerated tech training opportunities, and invest in innovative placement programs to connect trained workers with entrepreneurial opportunities and well-paying jobs.
§  Over 40 leading venture capital firms with over $100 billion under management, including Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, and Scale Venture Partners, committing to specific actions that advance opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
§  Institutional investors committing over $11 billion to emerging managers, including CalPERS and the New York City Pension Funds.
§  Over 100 engineering deans committing to attract and retain a diverse student body, building the pipeline for the next generation of American engineers and entrepreneurs.
§  Over a dozen major technology companies announcing new actions to ensure diverse recruitment and hiring, including Amazon, Box, Microsoft, Xerox, and others committing to adopt variations on the “Rooney Rule” to consider diverse candidates for senior executive positions.
For more Demo Day info click here.

"Diplomacy" key to Iran Nuclear Talks

President Obama spoke at American University on Wednesday to make the case for the administration's nuclear war deal recently reached with Iran.

Making the case for the U.S. - Iran nuclear weapons deal: President Obama speaking in the 
Prince Salman Grand Auditorium on the campus of American University. Photo/CD Brown. 
The president said the current deal, one with far-reaching components, was the best offer that could have been made, short of the alternative which he said - could be war.

To the point, and more diplomatically, the agreement stipulates that Iran cannot make a nuclear weapon - ever.

The president explained several other components of the deal, which 90 countries support.

Under the deal, said the president, "The core of its [Iran's] heavy-water reactor at Arak will be pulled out, filled with concrete, and replaced with one that will not produce plutonium for a weapon.  The spent fuel from that reactor will be shipped out of the country, and Iran will not build any new heavy-water reactors for at least 15 years."

The deal also stipulates that Iran will not be able to acquire uranium used to manufacture a bomb and that it must rid 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium (enough for nearly 10 nuclear bombs), also for 15 years.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have access to inspect Iran's uranium mines, mills and centrifuge production facilities for the same time period to ensure compliance.

"Inspectors will be allowed daily access to Iran’s key nuclear sites", the president said.

"If there is a reason for inspecting a suspicious, undeclared site anywhere in Iran, inspectors will get that access, even if Iran objects."

IAEA's director, General Yukiya Amano, said Wednesday in a Senate Committee hearing that the U.S., "will have wider access to information and sites."

"We will know much more about the nature of Iran’s nuclear activities", he said.

Opponents of the 'arrangement', with staunch recollection of Iran's history of violating treaties and agreements and Iran's reputation known for state-sponsored terrorism, question the deal's viability.

"Many serious concerns have been raised regarding this deal", said Representative Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), speaking at a more than three-hour long hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

"It remains a serious risk to the national security of the United states, [and] it remains a constant threat to the survival of Israel."

Representative Tim Scott (R-SC) said, "The more I read it, the less I like it."

(See 12 Senators that could sway the Iran deal).

Despite the clear and present reality of those concerns, the arrangement speaks only to nuclear weapons non-proliferation.

The government of Israel has opposed the deal; its Prime Minister has asked U.S. Jews to reject it.

"Because the government of Israel has opposed the deal, that has lead members of Congress to be concerned about it", said American University president Cornelius Kerwin.

"That's a big factor, but I think really, most of it is just politics", Kerwin said.

"There are certain people, no matter what he [President Obama] does, they're going to oppose."

Jake Plevelich of American University's School of International Service (SIS) Masters program said President Obama, "values our country more than previous presidents."

"I'm just very proud that he got this deal, and he fought for it, and he’s standing by it", said Plevelich.

"By him standing by this deal he is a peace maker and he’s standing up for the American people. Obviously, nothing’s ever going to be perfect given the circumstances, but I think this was an excellent deal given the circumstances.    Iran is cut off from making a bomb and that’s the goal.  I think that we have achieved the goal and the next step is just to get the deal approved.”

Congress has more meetings scheduled to discuss the deal before they leave for the Congressional August recess.

For others, no further discussion is needed.

"This deal is trusted and verified", said Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

"For me, this deal is about one thing, and one thing only. That this regime, that does do a lot of terrible things in the region and to its own people, will not have a nuclear weapon that that could further terrorize the world and terrorize the region."

Jake Plevelich and Parsa Ghahramani, American University School of International Service (SIS) students.

What AU millennials are saying about the deal.

Students of American University's School of International Studies (SIS) at American University weigh in on the U.S.- Iran nuclear weapons deal.

"I think it's important for my generation, the millennials, to pay attention to what is going on...  I like the fact that President Obama is bringing a different approach to it other than just war and military action. It's... more diplomatic where we can get more actors involved to find a peaceful solution.
My biggest concern is what happens if Iran goes to an ally and starts building a nuclear program with that country that the United States has not prohibited from developing a nuclear weapon. Is the U.S. always going to be involved in Iran’s foreign policy? Are they always going to have to scatter their experts around the world – having inspectors  follow Iran everywhere the go?"  – Michelle Sumakai, Graduate student; Ethics, Peace and  Global Affairs
 "It's a great thing. There really aren’t any alternatives that are better.   The president embarked on the hard work of diplomacy, which is a lot more difficult than just tough talk, just sounding.    
The overwhelming majority of Iranians support the deal because they realize this is the best that could be done."   Parsa Ghahramani,  2nd year Masters student; School of International Services (SIS)

WATCH: The president speaks at AU | Iran Nuclear Agreement Sanctions Relief  (1:10 mark provides another case against the deal)


 Representative Chuck Schumer (D-NY) opposes deal with Iran.