OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:
Source: FOIA, 5-22-15
U.S Department of State Freedom of Information Act….
Source: FOIA, 5-22-15
U.S Department of State Freedom of Information Act….
Posted by bonniekgoodman on May 22, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on January 12, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on January 10, 2015
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 30, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 29, 2014
Source: WH, 8-7-14
Ft. Belvoir, Virginia
12:05 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Fort Belvoir! (Applause.) Everybody, have a seat. I think I’m going to take Sergeant Major McGruder on the road. (Laughter.) I’m just going to have him introduce me wherever I go. (Laughter.) He got me excited, and I’m being — I get introduced all the time. So thank you, James, for your incredible service to our country. Give James a big round of applause. (Applause.)
I also want to say a big thanks to America’s new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald, who is here. Stand up, Bob. (Applause.) As some of you may know, Bob headed up one of the biggest, most successful companies in the world. But he also was a West Point grad, also a Ranger who served valiantly on behalf of his country. And this a labor of love for him, and he has hit the ground running. He’s heading out to VA hospitals and clinics around the country, starting with Phoenix tomorrow. So thank you, Bob, for accepting this charge and this challenge, and making sure that we’re doing right by our veterans. I know you’re going to do a great job. Really proud of him. (Applause.)
I want to thank all the members of Congress who are here today, and I especially want to thank those who led the fight to give Bob and the VA more of the resources and flexibility that they need to make sure every veteran has access to the care and benefits that they have earned. Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Richard Burr, Representative Mike Michaud, Representative Jeff Miller — give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) Thank you. That’s for the good work. (Applause.)
And we are all grateful to our outstanding veterans service organizations for all the work that they do on behalf of our veterans and their families. So thank you very much to all the veterans service organizations. Most of all, I want to thank General Buchanan and Sergeant Major Turnbull, and all of you who serve here at Fort Belvoir.
For nearly a century, this base has helped keep America strong and secure. Seventy years ago, troops from here –- the 29th Infantry Division, the Blue and Gray -– were some of the first to storm Omaha Beach. And in recent years, many of you have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. And you’ve risked your lives on multiple tours to defend our nation. And as a country, we have a sacred obligation to serve you as well as you’ve served us -– an obligation that doesn’t end with your tour of duty.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of dedicated public servants at the VA help us honor that commitment. At VA hospitals across America, you’ve got doctors and nurses who are delivering world-class care to America’s veterans. You’ve got millions of veterans and their families who are profoundly grateful for the good work that is done at the VA. And as Commander-in-Chief, I’m grateful, too.
But over the last few months, we’ve discovered some inexcusable misconduct at some VA health care facilities — stories of our veterans denied the care they needed, long wait times being covered up, cooking the books. This is wrong. It was outrageous. And working together, we set out to fix it and do right by our veterans across the board, no matter how long it took.
And we’ve already taken the first steps to change the way the VA does business. We’ve held people accountable for misconduct. Some have already been relieved of their duties, and investigations are ongoing. We’ve reached out to more than 215,000 veterans so far to make sure that we’re getting them off wait lists and into clinics both inside and outside the VA system.
We’re moving ahead with urgent reforms, including stronger management and leadership and oversight. And we’re instituting a critical culture of accountability — rebuilding our leadership team, starting at the top with Secretary McDonald. And one of his first acts is that he’s directed all VA health care facilities to hold town halls to hear directly from the veterans that they serve to make sure that we’re hearing honest assessments about what’s going on.
Now, in a few minutes, we’ll take another step forward when I sign into law the VA reform bill that was passed overwhelmingly, with bipartisan majorities — and that doesn’t happen often in Congress. It’s a good deal. (Laughter and applause.)
This bill covers a lot of ground — from expanding survivor benefits and educational opportunities, to improving care for veterans struggling with traumatic brain injury and for victims of sexual assault. But today, I want to focus on the ways this bill will help us ensure that veterans have access to the care that they’ve earned.
First of all, this will give the VA more of the resources that it needs. It will help the VA hire more doctors and more nurses and staff more clinics. As a new generation of veterans returns home from war and transitions into civilian life, we have to make sure the VA system can keep pace with that new demand. Keep in mind that I have increased funding for the VA since I came into office by extraordinary amounts. But we also have extraordinary numbers of veterans coming home. And so the demand, even though we’ve increased the VA budget, is still higher than the resources that we’ve got. This bill helps to address that.
Second, for veterans who can’t get timely care through the VA, this bill will help them get the care they need someplace else. And this is particularly important for veterans who are in more remote areas, in rural areas. If you live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, or if VA doctors can’t see you within a reasonable amount of time, you’ll have the chance to see a doctor outside the VA system.
Now finally, we’re giving the VA Secretary more authority to hold people accountable. We’ve got to give Bob the authority so that he can move quickly to remove senior executives who fail to meet the standards of conduct and competence that the American people demand. If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired. Period. It shouldn’t be that difficult. (Applause.) And if you blow the whistle on an unethical practice, or bring a problem to the attention of higher-ups, you should be thanked. You should be protected for doing the right thing. (Applause.) You shouldn’t be ignored, and you certainly shouldn’t be punished.
“To care for him [or her] who shall have borne the battle.” That’s the heart of the VA’s motto. That’s what the bill I’m about to sign will help us achieve. But I want to be clear about something: This will not and cannot be the end of our effort. Implementing this law will take time. It’s going to require focus on the part of all of us. And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we need at the VA right now, particularly around wait lists and the health care system, we can’t lose sight of our long-term goals for our servicemembers and our veterans.
The good news is, we’ve cut the disability claims backlog by more than half. But let’s now eliminate the backlog. Let’s get rid of it. (Applause.) The good news is, we’ve poured major resources into improving mental health care. But now, let’s make sure our veterans actually get the care they need when they need it. The good news is, we’ve helped to get thousands of homeless veterans off the street, made an unprecedented effort to end veterans’ homelessness. We should have zero tolerance for that. But we’ve got to — still more work to do in cities and towns across America to get more veterans into the homes they deserve.
We’ve helped more than a million veterans and their spouses and children go to college through the post-9/11 GI bill. (Applause.) But now, we’ve got to help even more of them earn their educations, and make sure that they’re getting a good bargain in the schools they enroll in.
We’ve rallied companies to hire hundreds of thousands of veterans and their spouses. That’s the good news. With the help of Jill Biden and Michelle Obama — two pretty capable women. (Laughter.) They know what they’re doing, and nobody says no to them, including me. (Laughter.) But now, we’ve got to help more of our highly skilled veterans find careers in this new economy.
So America has to do right by all who serve under our proud flag. And Congress needs to do more, also. I urge the Senate, once again, to finally confirm my nominee for Assistant Secretary for Policy at the VA, Linda Schwartz; my nominee to lead the Board of Veterans Appeals, Constance Tobias; my nominee for CFO, Helen Tierney. Each of them have been waiting for months for a yes-or-no vote — in Constance’s case for more than a year.
They’re ready to serve. They’re ready to get to work. It’s not that hard. It didn’t used to be this hard to just go ahead and get somebody confirmed who is well qualified. Nobody says they’re not. It’s just the Senate doesn’t seem to move very fast. As soon as the Senate gets back in September, they should act to put these outstanding public servants in place. Our veterans don’t have time for politics. They need these public servants on the job right now. (Applause.)
So let me wrap up by saying two months ago, I had the chance to spend some time with some of America’s oldest veterans at Omaha Beach. Some of you may have seen on television the celebration, the commemoration of those incredible days, the 70th anniversary of D-Day. And this is my second visit to democracy’s beachhead. It’s the second time I’ve gone as President. And it’s a place where it’s impossible not to be moved by the courage and the sacrifice of free men and women who volunteer to lay down their lives for people they’ve never met, ideals that they can’t live without. That’s why they’re willing to do these things.
And some of these folks that you met, they were 18 at the time. Some of them were lying about their age. They were 16, landing either at the beach or sometimes behind the lines. The casualty rates were unbelievable. Being there brought back memories of my own grandfather, who marched in Patton’s Army, and then came home. And like so many veterans of his generation, they went to school and got married and raised families. And he eventually helped to raise me.
And on that visit to Normandy, I brought some of today’s servicemembers with me because I wanted to introduce them to the veterans of D-Day and to show the veterans of D-Day that their legacy is in good hands, that there’s a direct line between the sacrifices then and the sacrifices that folks have made in remote places today. Because in more than a decade of war, today’s men and women in uniform — all of you — you’ve met every mission we’ve asked of you.
Today, our troops continue to serve and risk their lives in Afghanistan. It continues to be a difficult and dangerous mission, as we were tragically reminded again this week in the attack that injured a number of our coalition troops and took the life of a dedicated American soldier, Major General Harold Greene. Our prayers are with the Greene family, as they are with all the Gold Star families and those who have sacrificed so much for our nation.
Four months from now, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be complete. Our longest war will come to an honorable end. In the years to come, many from this generation will step out of uniform, and their legacy will be secure. But whether or not this country properly repays their heroism, properly repays their patriotism, their service and their sacrifice, that’s in our hands.
I’m committed to seeing that we fulfill that commitment. Because the men and women of this generation, this 9/11 Generation of servicemembers, are the leaders we need for our time — as community leaders and business leaders, I hope maybe some leaders in our politics, as well.
From the Greatest Generation to the 9/11 Generation, America’s heroes have answered the call to serve. I have no greater honor than serving as your President and Commander-in-Chief. And I have no greater privilege than the chance to help make sure that our country keeps the promises that we’ve made to everybody who signs up to serve. And as long as I hold this office, we’re going to spend each and every day working to do right by you and your families. I’m grateful to you.
God bless you. God bless America. With that, I am going to sign this bill. Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)
(The bill is signed.) (Applause.)
12:18 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 7, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on May 27, 2014
Source: WH, 5-21-14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:58 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. I just met with Secretary Shinseki and Rob Nabors, who I’ve temporarily assigned to work with Secretary Shinseki and the VA. We focused on two issues: the allegations of misconduct at Veterans Affairs facilities, and our broader mission of caring for our veterans and their families.
As Commander-in-Chief, I have the honor of standing with our men and women in uniform at every step of their service: from the moment they take their oath, to when our troops prepare to deploy, to Afghanistan — where they put their lives on the line for our security, to their bedside, as our wounded warriors fight to recover from terrible injuries. The most searing moments of my presidency have been going to Walter Reed, or Bethesda, or Bagram and meeting troops who have left a part of themselves on the battlefield. And their spirit and their determination to recover and often to serve again is an inspiration.
So these men and women and their families are the best that our country has to offer. They’ve done their duty, and they ask nothing more than that this country does ours — that we uphold our sacred trust to all who have served.
So when I hear allegations of misconduct — any misconduct — whether it’s allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it. Not as Commander-in-Chief, but also not as an American. None of us should. So if these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it — period.
Here’s what I discussed with Secretary Shinseki this morning. First, anybody found to have manipulated or falsified records at VA facilities has to be held accountable. The inspector general at the VA has launched investigations into the Phoenix VA and other facilities. And some individuals have already been put on administrative leave. I know that people are angry and want a swift reckoning. I sympathize with that. But we have to let the investigators do their job and get to the bottom of what happened. Our veterans deserve to know the facts. Their families deserve to know the facts. And once we know the facts, I assure you — if there is misconduct, it will be punished.
Second, I want to know the full scope of this problem. And that’s why I ordered Secretary Shinseki to investigate. Today, he updated me on his review, which is looking not just at the Phoenix facility, but also VA facilities across the nation. And I expect preliminary results from that review next week.
Third, I’ve directed Rob Nabors to conduct a broader review of the Veterans Health Administration — the part of the VA that delivers health care to our veterans. And Rob is going to Phoenix today. Keep in mind, though, even if we had not heard reports out of this Phoenix facility or other facilities, we all know that it often takes too long for veterans to get the care that they need. That’s not a new development. It’s been a problem for decades and it’s been compounded by more than a decade of war.
That’s why, when I came into office, I said we would systematically work to fix these problems, and we have been working really hard to address them. My attitude is, for folks who have been fighting on the battlefield, they should not have to fight a bureaucracy at home to get the care that they’ve earned.
So the presumption has always been we’ve got to do better. And Rob’s review will be a comprehensive look at the Veterans Health Administration’s approach currently to access to care. I want to know what’s working. I want to know what is not working. And I want specific recommendations on how VA can up their game. And I expect that full report from Rob next month.
Number four — I said that I expect everyone involved to work with Congress, which has an important oversight role to play. And I welcome Congress as a partner in our efforts not just to address the current controversies, but to make sure we’re doing right by our veterans across the board. I served on the Veterans Affairs Committee when I was in the Senate, and it was one of the proudest pieces of business that I did in the legislature. And I know the folks over there care deeply about our veterans.
It is important that our veterans don’t become another political football, especially when so many of them are receiving care right now. This is an area where Democrats and Republicans should always be working together.
Which brings me to my final point. Even as we get to the bottom of what happened at Phoenix and other facilities, all of us, whether here in Washington or all across the country, have to stay focused on the larger mission, which is upholding our sacred trust to all of our veterans, bringing the VA system into the 21st century — which is not an easy task.
We have made progress over the last five years. We’ve made historic investments in our veterans. We’ve boosted VA funding to record levels. And we created consistency through advanced appropriations so that veterans organizations knew their money would be there regardless of political wrangling in Washington.
We made VA benefits available to more than 2 million veterans who did not have it before — delivering disability pay to more Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange; making it easier for veterans with post-traumatic stress and mental health issues and traumatic brain injury to get treatment; and improving care for women veterans.
Because of these steps and the influx of new veterans requiring services added in many cases to wait times, we launched an all-out war on the disability claims backlog. And in just the past year alone, we’ve slashed that backlog by half.
Of course, we’re not going to let up, because it’s still too high. We’re going to keep at it until we eliminate the backlog once and for all. Meanwhile, we’re also reducing homelessness among our veterans. We’re helping veterans and their families — more than a million so far — pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. We’re stepping up our efforts to help our newest veterans get the skills and training to find jobs when they come home. And along with Michelle and Jill Biden and Joining Forces, we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of veterans find a job. More veterans are finding work and veterans unemployment, although still way too high, is coming down.
The point is, caring for our veterans is not an issue that popped up in recent weeks. Some of the problems with respect to how veterans are able to access the benefits that they’ve earned, that’s not a new issue. That’s an issue that I was working on when I was running for the United States Senate. Taking care of our veterans and their families has been one of the causes of my presidency, and it is something that all of us have to be involved with and have to be paying attention to.
We ended the war in Iraq. And as our war in Afghanistan ends, and as our newest veterans are coming home, the demands on the VA are going to grow. So we’re going to have to redouble our efforts to get it right as a nation. And we have to be honest that there are and will continue to be areas where we’ve got to do a lot better.
So today, I want every veteran to know we are going to fix whatever is wrong. And so long as I have the privilege of serving as Commander-in-Chief, I’m going to keep on fighting to deliver the care and the benefits and the opportunities that your families deserve, now and for decades to come. That is a commitment to which I feel a sacred duty to maintain.
So with that, I’m going to take two questions. I’m going to take Jim Kuhnhenn at AP, first of all.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. As you said, this is a cause of your presidency. You ran on this issue — you mentioned it. Why was it allowed to get to this stage where you actually had potentially 40 veterans who died while waiting for treatment? That’s an extreme circumstance. Why did it get to that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have to find out, first of all, what exactly happened. And I don’t want to get ahead of the IG report or the other investigations that are being done. And I think it is important to recognize that the wait times generally — what the IG indicated so far at least — is the wait times were for folks who may have had chronic conditions, were seeking their next appointment but may have already received service. It was not necessarily a situation where they were calling for emergency services. And the IG indicated that he did not see a link between the wait and them actually dying.
That does not excuse the fact that the wait times in general are too long in some facilities. And so what we have to do is find out what exactly happened. We have to find out how can we realistically cut some of these wait times. There has been a large influx of new veterans coming in. We’ve got a population of veterans that is also aging as part of the baby boom population. And we’ve got to make sure that the scheduling system, the access to the system, that all those things are in sync. There are parts of the VA health care system that have performed well.
And what we’ve seen is, for example, satisfaction rates in many facilities with respect to many providers has been high. But what we’re seeing is that, in terms of how folks get scheduled, how they get in the system, there are still too many problems. I’m going to get a complete report from it. It is not, as a consequence, people not caring about the problem, but there are 85 million appointments scheduled among veterans during the course of a year. That’s a lot of appointments. And that means that we’ve got to have a system that is built in order to be able to take those folks in in a smooth fashion, that they know what to expect, that it’s reliable, and it means that the VA has got to set standards that it can meet. And if it can’t meet them right now, then it’s going to have to set realistic goals about how they improve the system overall.
Q Does the responsibility ultimately rest with General Shinseki?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, the responsibility for things always rests ultimately with me, as the President and Commander-in-Chief. Ric Shinseki has been a great soldier. He himself is a disabled veteran. And nobody cares more about our veterans than Ric Shinseki. So if you ask me how do I think Ric Shinseki has performed overall, I would say that on homelessness, on the 9/11 GI Bill, on working with us to reduce the backlog, across the board he has put his heart and soul into this thing and he has taken it very seriously.
But I have said to Ric — and I said it to him today — I want to see what the results of these reports are and there is going to be accountability. And I’m going to expect even before the reports are done that we are seeing significant improvement in terms of how the admissions process takes place in all of our VA health care facilities. So I know he cares about it deeply and he has been a great public servant and a great warrior on behalf of the United States of America. We’re going to work with him to solve the problem, but I am going to make sure that there is accountability throughout the system after I get the full report.
Steve Holland from Reuters.
Q Thank you, sir. Has Secretary Shinseki offered to resign? And if he’s not to blame, then who is? And were you caught by surprise by these allegations?
THE PRESIDENT: Ric Shinseki I think serves this country because he cares deeply about veterans and he cares deeply about the mission. And I know that Ric’s attitude is if he does not think he can do a good job on this and if he thinks he has let our veterans down, then I’m sure that he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve. At this stage, Ric is committed to solving the problem and working with us to do it. And I am going to do everything in my power, using the resources of the White House, to help that process of getting to the bottom of what happened and fixing it.
But I’m also going to be waiting to see what the results of all this review process yields. I don’t yet know how systemic this is. I don’t yet know are there a lot of other facilities that have been cooking the books, or is this just an episodic problem. We know that, essentially, the wait times have been a problem for decades in all kinds of circumstances with respect to the VA — getting benefits, getting health care, et cetera. Some facilities do better than others. A couple of years ago, the Veterans Affairs set a goal of 14 days for wait times. What’s not yet clear to me is whether enough tools were given to make sure that those goals were actually met.
And I won’t know until the full report is put forward as to whether there was enough management follow-up to ensure that those folks on the front lines who were doing scheduling had the capacity to meet those goals; if they were being evaluated for meeting goals that were unrealistic and they couldn’t meet, because either there weren’t enough doctors or the systems weren’t in place or what have you. We need to find out who was responsible for setting up those guidelines. So there are going to be a lot of questions that we have to answer.
In the meantime, what I said to Ric today is let’s not wait for the report retrospectively to reach out immediately to veterans who are currently waiting for appointments, to make sure that they are getting better service. That’s something that we can initiate right now. We don’t have to wait to find out if there was misconduct to dig in and make sure that we’re upping our game in all of our various facilities.
I do think it is important not just with respect to Ric Shinseki, but with respect to the VA generally, to say that every single day there are people working in the VA who do outstanding work and put everything they’ve got into making sure that our veterans get the care, benefits and services that they need. And so I do want to close by sending a message out there that there are millions of veterans who are getting really good service from the VA, who are getting really good treatment from the VA. I know because I get letters from veterans sometimes asking me to write letters of commendation or praise to a doctor or a nurse or a facility that couldn’t have given them better treatment.
And so this is a big system with a lot of really good people in it who care about our veterans deeply. We have seen the improvements on a whole range of issues like homelessness, like starting to clear the backlog up, like making sure that folks who previously weren’t even eligible for disability because it was a mental health issue or because it was an Agent Orange issue are finally able to get those services. I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of folks in the VA who are doing a really good job and working really hard at it. That does not, on the other hand, excuse the possibility that, number one, we weren’t just — we were not doing a good enough job in terms of providing access to folks who need an appointment for chronic conditions. Number two, it never excuses the possibility that somebody was trying to manipulate the data in order to look better or make their facility look better.
It is critical to make sure that we have good information in order to make good decisions. I want people on the front lines, if there’s a problem, to tell me or tell Ric Shinseki, or tell whoever is their superior, that this is a problem. Don’t cover up a problem. Do not pretend the problem doesn’t exist. If you can’t get wait times down to 14 days right now, I want you to let folks up the chain know so that we can solve the problem. Do we need more doctors? Do we need a new system in order to make sure that the scheduling and coordination is more effective and more smooth? Is there more follow-up?
And that’s the thing that right now most disturbs me about the report — the possibility that folks intentionally withheld information that would have helped us fix a problem, because there’s not a problem out there that’s not fixable. It can’t always be fixed as quickly as everybody would like, but typically we can chip away at these problems. We’ve seen this with the backlog. We’ve seen it with veterans homelessness. We’ve seen it with the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Initially, there were problems with it. They got fixed and now it’s operating fairly smoothly. So problems can be fixed, but folks have to let the people that they’re reporting to know that there is a problem in order for us to fix it.
Q What about bonuses for those implicated in mismanagement, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: We’re going to find out. My attitude is —
Q Does that upset you?
THE PRESIDENT: Listen, if somebody has mismanaged or engaged in misconduct, not only do I not want them getting bonuses, I want them punished. So that’s what we’re going to hopefully find out from the IG report, as well as the audits that are taking place.
11:18 A.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on May 21, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on May 7, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 22, 2013
LIVE VIDEO President Obama holds a news conference.
Source: NYT, 8-9-13
President Obama plans to announce efforts to “restore public trust” in surveillance programs that have sparked deep concern after leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, a senior official said Friday….READ MORE
Source: NYT, 8-9-13
Highlights and analysis as President Obama takes questions from the news media on Friday afternoon….READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 9, 2013
Source: NYT, 8-9-13
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 9, 2013
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama will not travel to Moscow next month to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the White House announced Wednesday, citing Russia’s “disappointing decision” to grant asylum to National Security Agency-leaker Edward Snowden and a lack of progress in the U.S.-Russian bilateral agenda….READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 7, 2013
Source: Politico, 8-7-13
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
4:34 P.M. PDT
Q Welcome the President of the United States — Barack Obama. (Applause.)
Welcome back, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. It’s good to be back. (Applause.)
Q Well, we’re thrilled to have you.
THE PRESIDENT: It is good to be back.
Q And a happy birthday.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
Q Happy birthday to you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.)
Q So how did you celebrate Sunday? What did you do?
THE PRESIDENT: I had a bunch of friends come over who I don’t see that often from high school and college. And we played a little golf, and then we tried to play a little basketball. And it was a sad state of affairs. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: A bunch of old guys. Where’s the Ibuprofen and all that stuff. (Laughter.)
Q But you’re pretty competitive.
THE PRESIDENT: I am pretty competitive. But the day of my birthday — we do departure photos of people who are transitioning out of the White House. And we let them bring their families and they take a picture in the Oval Office. And this wonderful staff person came in and had a really cute, young son. He looked like Harry Potter, a six-year-old guy. (Laughter.) He came in, he had an economic report for me. He had graphs and everything. (Laughter.) And, he says, “My birthday is in August, too.” I said, “Well, how old are you going to be?” He said, “Seven.” He said, “How old are you?” I said, “Fifty-two.” He said, “Whoa.” (Laughter.) Whoa. Whoa. (Laughter.) He looked off in the distance. He was trying to project. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, you can’t even —
THE PRESIDENT: You can’t go out that far.
Q You can’t grasp that number, no. (Laughter.) Now, I’ve seen Michelle tease you about your gray hair. You have a bit of silver in your hair. Do you tease back?
THE PRESIDENT: No. (Laughter and applause.) That’s why we’re celebrating our 21st anniversary. (Laughter.)
Q As I’m married 33 years, I know exactly what you’re saying. (Laughter.) I’ve got to ask you about this. Everyone is concerned about these embassy closings. How significant is this threat?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s significant enough that we’re taking every precaution. We had already done a lot to bolster embassy security around the world, but especially in the Middle East and North Africa, where the threats tend to be highest. And whenever we see a threat stream that we think is specific enough that we can take some specific precautions within a certain timeframe, then we do so.
Now, it’s a reminder that for all the progress we’ve made — getting bin Laden, putting al Qaeda between Afghanistan and Pakistan back on its heels — that this radical, violent extremism is still out there. And we’ve got to stay on top of it. It’s also a reminder of how courageous our embassy personnel tend to be, because you can never have 100 percent security in some of these places. The countries themselves sometimes are ill-equipped to provide the kind of security that you want. Even if we reinforce it, there are still vulnerabilities.
And these diplomats, they go out there and they serve every day. Oftentimes, they have their families with them. They do an incredible job and sometimes don’t get enough credit. So we’re grateful to them and we’ve got to do everything we can to protect them. (Applause.)
Q This global travel warning, this is for Americans all around the world? Are we telling people don’t take that European vacation just yet? What are we saying?
THE PRESIDENT: I think the general rule is just show some common sense and some caution. So there are some countries where you’re less likely to experience a terrorist attack. There are some where there are more dangers. And if people are paying attention, checking with the State Department or embassy, going on the website before you travel, find out what kind of precautions you should be taking, then I think it still makes sense for people to take vacations. They just have to make sure that they’re doing so in a prudent way.
Q What do you say to those cynics who go, oh, this is an overreaction to Benghazi — how do you respond to that?
THE PRESIDENT: One thing I’ve tried to do as President is not over react, but make sure that as much as possible the American people understand that there are genuine risks out there. What’s great about what we’ve seen with America over the last several years is how resilient we are. So after the Boston bombing, for example, the next day folks were out there, they’re going to ball games. They are making sure that we’re not reacting in a way that somehow shuts us down.
And that’s the right reaction. Terrorists depend on the idea that we’re going to be terrorized. And we’re going to live our lives. And the odds of people dying in a terrorist attack obviously are still a lot lower than in a car accident, unfortunately. But there are things that we can do to make sure that we’re keeping the pressure on these networks that would try to injure Americans. And the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed is making sure that I’m doing everything I can to keep Americans safe. (Applause.)
Q It’s safe to say that we learned about these threats through the NSA intelligence program? Is that a fair assessment?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, this intelligence-gathering that we do is a critical component of counterterrorism. And obviously, with Mr. Snowden and the disclosures of classified information, this raised a lot of questions for people. But what I said as soon as it happened I continue to believe in, which is a lot of these programs were put in place before I came in. I had some skepticism, and I think we should have a healthy skepticism about what government is doing. I had the programs reviewed. We put in some additional safeguards to make sure that there’s federal court oversight as well as congressional oversight, that there is no spying on Americans.
We don’t have a domestic spying program. What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat. And that information is useful. But what I’ve said before I want to make sure I repeat, and that is we should be skeptical about the potential encroachments on privacy. None of the revelations show that government has actually abused these powers, but they’re pretty significant powers.
And I’ve been talking to Congress and civil libertarians and others about are there additional ways that we can make sure that people know nobody is listening to your phone call, but we do want to make sure that after a Boston bombing, for example, we’ve got the phone numbers of those two brothers — we want to be able to make sure did they call anybody else? Are there networks in New York, are there networks elsewhere that we have to roll up? And if we can make sure that there’s confidence on the part of the American people that there’s oversight, then I think we can make sure that we’re properly balancing our liberty and our security.
Q When we come back, I want to ask you about Russia and Snowden. I hit on something in the monologue which just seems incredible to me, and I want to get your thoughts on that.
More with the President when we come back. (Applause.)
* * *
Q Welcome back to our discussion with President Barack Obama. (Applause.)
Let me ask you about this — the NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Some call him a whistleblower. What do you call him?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we don’t know yet exactly what he did, other than what he’s said on the Internet, and it’s important for me not to prejudge something.
Q Got you.
THE PRESIDENT: Hopefully, at some point he’ll go to trial and he will have a lawyer and due process, and we can make those decisions.
I can tell you that there are ways, if you think that the government is abusing a program, of coming forward. In fact, I, through executive order, signed whistleblower protection for intelligence officers or people who are involved in the intelligence industry. So you don’t have to break the law. You don’t have to divulge information that could compromise American security. You can come forward, come to the appropriate individuals and say, look, I’ve got a problem with what’s going on here, I’m not sure whether it’s being done properly.
If, in fact, the allegations are true, then he didn’t do that. And that is a huge problem because a lot of what we do depends on terrorists networks not knowing that, in fact, we may be able to access their information.
Q Let me add — now, he was a contracted employee.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q And it seems the government has a lot of these. I remember when I was coming up my brother was in ROTC, and in those days, they would take college students, you go into the Army, the Army would train you. This guy is being paid money by an outside firm, living in Hawaii, got the stripper girlfriend. All of a sudden you’re all upset with what the government is doing, and you go to another country. I mean, in my era, Daniel Ellsberg stood in the town square and said, “I’ve got this,” got arrested, The New York Times — I mean, should we go back to not using so many — whether it’s Blackwater or any of these contract — these people who are Hessians, they get paid?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think you’re raising an important issue. We’ve been trying to reduce the reliance on contractors. Some of the contractors do a great job, and they’re patriots and they’re trying to support our mission. Sometimes they can do it more efficiently or effectively if they’ve got some specialized knowledge. But one of the things that I’ve asked our team to look at is, when it comes to intelligence, should we, in fact, be farming that much stuff out. And there are a lot of extraordinarily capable folks in our military and our government who can do this, and probably do it cheaper, and then benefit from the training that they get so that when they transfer — (applause) — they’re in a better position.
Q Now, were you surprised that Russia granted Snowden asylum?
THE PRESIDENT: I was disappointed because even though we don’t have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally we have tried to respect if there’s a law-breaker or an alleged law-breaker in their country, we evaluate it and we try to work with them. They didn’t do that with us. And in some ways it’s reflective of some underlying challenges that we’ve had with Russia lately. A lot of what’s been going on hasn’t been major breaks in the relationship, and they still help us on supplying our troops in Afghanistan; they’re still helping us on counterterrorism work; they were helpful after the Boston bombing in that investigation. And so there’s still a lot of business that we can do with them.
But there have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality. And what I consistently say to them, and what I say to President Putin, is that’s the past and we’ve got to think about the future, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to cooperate more effectively than we do.
Q And Putin seems to me like one of those old-school KGB guys.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, he headed up the KGB. (Laughter.)
Q Yes. Well, that’s what I mean. Yes, that’s what I mean. He has that mentality. I mean, look at this picture here. You two don’t look pretty — (laughter) — you look like me and the NBC executives. What is going on there? (Laughter.) That doesn’t look like a friendly picture.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the truth is, is that when we have meetings we can have some pretty blunt exchanges and animated exchanges. But he’s got — that seems to be his preferred style during press conferences, is sitting back and not looking too excited. (Laughter.) Now, part of it is he’s not accustomed to having press conferences where you’ve got a bunch of reporters yelling questions at you.
Q Now, the G20 summit is in St. Petersburg next —
THE PRESIDENT: Coming up, right.
Q Are you going to that and will you meet with Putin?
THE PRESIDENT: I will be going to that. I will be going to that because the G20 summit is the main forum where we talk about the economy, the world economy, with all the top economic powers in the world. So it’s not something unique to Russia. They’re hosting it this year, but it’s important for us, as the leading economy in the world, to make sure that we’re there — in part because creating jobs, improving our economy, building up our manufacturing base, increasing wages — all those things now depend on how we compete in this global economy. And when you’ve got problems in Europe, or China is slowing down, that has an impact here in the United States.
And I’ve been saying for the entire tenure of my presidency that my number-one priority at all times is how do we create an economy where, if you work hard in this country, you can succeed. And there are a lot of things that we can do here in this country, but we’ve also got to pay attention to what’s going on outside it.
Q Well, something that shocked me about Russia — and I’m surprised this is not a huge story — suddenly, homosexuality is against the law. I mean, this seems like Germany: Let’s round up the Jews, let’s round up the gays, let’s round up the blacks. I mean, it starts with that. You round up people who you don’t
— I mean, why is not more of the world outraged at this?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ve been very clear that when it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people’s basic freedoms, that whether you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country. And I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.
Now, what’s happening in Russia is not unique. When I traveled to Africa, there were some countries that are doing a lot of good things for their people, who we’re working with and helping on development issues, but in some cases have persecuted gays and lesbians. And it makes for some uncomfortable press conferences sometimes. But one of the things that I think is very important for me to speak out on is making sure that people are treated fairly and justly, because that’s what we stand for. And I believe that that’s a precept that’s not unique to America, that’s something that should apply everywhere. (Applause.)
Q Do you think it will affect the Olympics?
THE PRESIDENT: I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work, and I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently. They’re athletes, they’re there to compete. And if Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track, or in the swimming pool, or on the balance beam, and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it. (Applause.)
Q Good enough for me.
We’ll be right back. We’ll talk about the economy when we come back.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
Q More with President Obama right after this. (Applause.)
* * *
Q Welcome back. We’re talking with the President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Hey, let’s talk about the economy. Things seem to be getting better, seem to be improving.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the economy is growing.
THE PRESIDENT: The unemployment rate has been ticking down, and housing is improving. We’ve seen the deficit cut in half. Health care costs are actually going up slower than they have in — any time in the last 50 years. So there are a lot of good trends.
THE PRESIDENT: But I think what folks all across the country would tell you is we’ve got a lot more work to do. Wages and salaries haven’t gone up. Middle-class families are still struggling to make sure they can pay for their kids’ college education. They’re still concerned about whether they can retire.
And what Washington should be thinking about every single day is how do we make sure we’ve got an economy where if folks work hard, they can find a good job that pays a decent wage; they can send their kids to college; they’ve got health care they can count on; they can retire even if they don’t get rich — or even if they’re not rich; and that we’re creating these ladders of opportunities for people to get into the middle class.
And what’s happened over the last 20 years is — actually longer than that, probably over the last 30 — is that the gap between those of us at the very top and the vast middle has been growing wider and wider. And some of that is globalization. Some of it is technology. You go to a factory — you’re a car guy — if you go to an auto plant now, robots, and it’s clean as a whistle, and it doesn’t employ as many people as it used to. So a lot of those middle-class jobs have gone away.
And what we have to do is make sure that we are investing in infrastructure, research; making sure our kids are educated properly; and an improved and more stable housing market instead of the kind of bubbles that we had before. All those things can really make a difference.
Q You mentioned infrastructure. Why is that a partisan issue? I live in a town, the bridge is falling apart, it’s not safe. How does that become Republican or Democrat? How do you not just fix the bridge? (Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know. As you know, for the last three years, I’ve said, let’s work together. Let’s find a financing mechanism and let’s go ahead and fix our bridges, fix our roads, sewer systems, our ports. The Panama is being widened so that these big supertankers can come in. Now, that will be finished in 2015. If we don’t deepen our ports all along the Gulf — places like Charleston, South Carolina, or Savannah, Georgia, or Jacksonville, Florida — if we don’t do that, those ships are going to go someplace else. And we’ll lose jobs. Businesses won’t locate here.
So this is something that traditionally has been bipartisan. I mean, it used to be Republicans and Democrats, they love cutting those ribbons.
THE PRESIDENT: And we’ve got a bunch of construction workers who aren’t working right now. They’ve got the skills. They want to get on the job. It would have a huge impact on the economy not just now, but well into the future. So I’m just going to keep on pushing Republicans to join with us, and let’s try to do it.
Part of it is — what they’ll say is, we like infrastructure, but we don’t want to pay for it. And one of the things I’ve been trying to get across here is, is that we don’t need a huge government, but we need government doing some basic things, and we should all agree on a sensible mechanism to go ahead and pay for it — make sure we don’t waste money, make sure we’re cutting down on permitting times and delays, but let’s go ahead and get it done.
Q Would it be possible to do a modern WPA, almost like a America Peace Corps where kids get paid a decent wage, you give them food, and they fix up Detroit, they fix up other cities — whatever — they fix bridges? I mean, when you travel this country, you see these great bridges and things that were built by — and they have the plaque, the guys that built it in 1932, in 1931.
THE PRESIDENT: And it was incredibly important for not just the economy in the ‘30s, we use it still — Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam. It opened up opportunity for everybody. The Interstate Highway System — think of all the businesses that got created because we put that together.
So it’s possible. The question is do we have the political will to do it. And my argument to Congress has been, this is just like your house. You can put off fixing the roof. You can put off doing the tuckpointing. You can put off replacing the old boiler. But sooner or later, you’re going to have to fix it, and it’s going to be more expensive the longer you put it off. When we’ve got unemployed folks right now, we should be putting them to work, and it would be good for the entire country. (Applause.)
Q And let me ask you about something I’m seeing. Is it me, or do I see kind of bromance with you and John McCain? (Laughter.) I remember you two had that lovers’ quarrel for a while. And, oh, now, you’re, oh — well, you’re best friends.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know that’s how —
Q What happened?
THE PRESIDENT: That’s how a classic romantic comedy goes, right? (Laughter.) Initially you’re not getting along, and then you keep on bumping into each other. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, but what’s — I mean, what changed? Who saw the light? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: John McCain and I have a number of philosophical differences, but he is a person of integrity. He is willing to say things regardless of the politics. The fact that he worked hard with a group of Democratic and Republican senators on immigration reform; they passed a bill in the Senate that will make sure that folks who are here illegally have to pay back-taxes and pay a penalty and get to the back of the line, but over time have a pathway to citizenship, and make sure that we’re strengthening our borders. He went ahead and passed that even though there are some questions in his own party. So I think that he deserves credit for being somebody who is willing to go against the grain of his own party sometimes. It’s probably not good for me to compliment him on television.
Q Yes, yes. (Laughter.) Get a big head.
THE PRESIDENT: But I think that he’s an example of a number of Republicans in the Senate, in the House, who want to be for something, not just be against everything. (Applause.) And the more that they can try to move in that direction, I think the better off we’ll be.
Q Now, we’re going to take a break. I want to talk about Hillary because I know you had lunch with her.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
Q My question — my question when we come back, who asked who to lunch. (Laughter.) Don’t answer. Don’t answer. We’ll find out more with President Obama right after this. (Applause.)
* * *
Q (Applause.) We are back with the President of the United States.
You and Hillary had lunch last — who invited who to lunch? I’m curious.
THE PRESIDENT: I invited her.
THE PRESIDENT: And we had a great time. She had that post-administration glow. (Laughter.) You know, when folks leave the White House — two weeks later, they look great. (Laughter.) But it was a wonderful conversation. By the end of my first term, we had become genuinely close and I could not have more respect for her. She was a great Secretary of State, and I’m very, very proud of the work she did. (Applause.)
Q Did you notice her measuring the drapes or anything like that? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: No. Keep in mind, she’s been there before.
Q Right, that’s true. That’s true.
THE PRESIDENT: So she doesn’t have to measure them.
Q So what’s the latest in health care? What’s new?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, on October 1st, people are going to be able to sign up if they don’t have health care. If you’ve got health care, you don’t have to do anything. The only thing that’s happened for people who have health care right now is, is that you’ve been able to benefit from the fact that we put in place a law so that insurance companies have to spend 80 percent of your premiums on health care, and if they spend it on administrative costs and high CEO salaries, they’ve got to send you a rebate. And that’s been affecting people. (Applause.)
If you’ve got a kid who has just graduated, doesn’t have a job with health care, they can stay on their parent’s plan. That’s in place right now. Free preventive care and free contraceptive care for young women and families — all that stuff is in place now. No lifetime limits. (Applause.)
So a lot of consumer protections got put in place. But on October 1st, if you don’t have health care right now, you can join what are called these marketplaces and you’ll be able to get lower-cost health care. Here in California, it’s estimated it will be 20, 30 percent cheaper than what you’re already getting. And we’ll give you subsidies — tax credits, essentially — if you still can’t afford it.
So you can go to healthcare.gov and right now you can pre-register essentially and start figuring out is this plan right for you.
Q Well, I was able to get health care from — the guys who worked at my shop for me are all over 50. They never had health care. And I was able to get it now because you can’t be turned down. So thank you for that.
THE PRESIDENT: You can’t be turned down because of a preexisting condition. That’s part of what we’re going to be doing. (Applause.)
Q Something I thought was — I thought you spoke very eloquently about the Trayvon Martin case and I could tell you were speaking from the heart. And tell me about that.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think all of us were troubled by what happened. And any of us who were parents can imagine the heart ache that those parents went through. It doesn’t mean that Trayvon was a perfect kid — none of us were. We were talking offstage — when you’re a teenager, especially a teenage boy, you’re going to mess up, and you won’t always have the best judgment. But what I think all of us agree to is, is that we should have a criminal justice system that’s fair, that’s just. And what I wanted to try to explain was why this was a particularly sensitive topic for African American families, because a lot of people who have sons know the experience they had of being followed or being viewed suspiciously.
We all know that young African American men disproportionately have involvement in criminal activities and violence — for a lot of reasons, a lot of it having to do with poverty, a lot of it having to do with disruptions in their neighborhoods and their communities, and failing schools and all those things. And that’s no excuse, but what we also believe in is, is that people — everybody — should be treated fairly and the system should work for everyone. (Applause.) And so what I’m trying to do is just —
Q I agree.
THE PRESIDENT: — make sure that we have a conversation and that we’re all asking ourselves are there some things that we can do to foster better understanding, and to make sure that we don’t have laws in place that encourage the kind of violent encounter that we saw there that resulted in tragedy.
Q Let me ask you something — you told a group of young people that broccoli was your favorite food. (Laughter.) Now, lying to voters is one thing; lying to children, that’s — (laughter and applause) — well, that is —
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say this —
Q Can you put your right hand on a Bible and say, “Broccoli” — (laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say this — I have broccoli a lot. (Laughter.) I mean, no, you can ask my staff.
THE PRESIDENT: It is one of my staples. Me and broccoli, I don’t know, we’ve got a thing going. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It goes especially well with burgers and fries.
Q Right, right. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
Q And did Michelle make a broccoli cake with broccoli icing?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I won’t go that far.
Q Now, did the kids believe you or did they go, “Oh, come on.”
THE PRESIDENT: No, they did kind of — they looked at me. (Laughter.) They had their little pads and pencils, and they were all, “Really?” (Laughter.) “More than chips?” (Laughter.)
But to Michelle’s credit, the Let’s Move initiative that she’s been involved with that has gotten so many folks all around the country doing stuff to help kids exercise and eat right. For the first time in a long time, we’ve started to see some modest reduction in childhood obesity. So I think it’s making a difference. (Applause.)
Q Well, that’s good. Really proud of that.
Mr. President, it’s been an honor. I know you have to go.
THE PRESIDENT: It was nice to see you.
Q Thank you so much.
THE PRESIDENT: Before we go, well, Jay, I know you’re very proud of your car collection.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there’s one piece that’s missing.
THE PRESIDENT: This is the Beast.
Q The Beast!
THE PRESIDENT: The one I drive in. (Applause.)
Q Oh, look at that. My friend, Ed Wellburn, designed that car. Will you sign the roof?
THE PRESIDENT: I will sign the roof.
Q Oh, cool. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Now, the doors are heavy, so when you’re getting in you may need a little help. (Laughter.)
Q I assume the real car will be at my garage after the show. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: There you go, Jay.
Q Very good.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.
Q Mr. President, a pleasure and an honor, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate it.
Q Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 5:16 P.M. PDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 7, 2013
Source: ABC News Radio, 6-24-13
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Obama on Monday said the U.S. is following the appropriate legal channels in the case of fugitive NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom the White House believes is in Moscow….READ MORE
Q — Putin, and are you confident that they’ll expel
— he’ll be expelled?
THE PRESIDENT: What we know is, is that we’re following all of the appropriate legal channels, and working with various other countries to make sure that rule of law is observed. And beyond that, I’ll refer to the Justice Department that has been actively involved in the case.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 24, 2013
Source: ABC News Radio, 6-19-13
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The FBI does fly spy drones over the U.S. FBI Director Robert Mueller made that admission before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday during his testimony about the National Security Agency surveillance programs.
According to Mueller, the FBI deploys these unmanned planes in “a very minimal way and very seldom” and his bureau is working to develop guidelines for their future use so as to relieve concerns of privacy advocates and civil liberties groups….READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 20, 2013
Source: US News, 6-13-13
Domestic politics also plays a role, Dallek says. Presidents believe that their top job is to “keep the country safe,” and to fail in that mission would look “negligent,” a reputation that no president wants, the historian notes….READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 13, 2013
Source: ABC News Radio, 6-12-13
State Department photo/ Public Domain
At a joint press conference Wednesday with United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the National Security Agency, saying that Congress understands the program, passed it and voted for it several times. He also said the judiciary branch has also reviewed it and the program and has been actively engaged.
“This is a three-branch-of-government effort to keep America safe. And in fact, it has not read emails or looked at or listened to conversations, and — the exception of where a court may have made some decision, which was predicated on appropriate evidence,” said Kerry….READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 12, 2013
Ms. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program.
The Obama Administration can add a fourth burgeoning scandal to their second term woes. Last Wednesday June 5, 2013, the Washington Post and the London, UK paper the Guardian revealed the National Security Agency (NSA) along with FBI had been the monitoring all phone and internet records in the United States. The story took an added twist on Sunday, June 9 when Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor responsible for leaking documents from the surveillance program to the press came forward. Now the focus is on two fronts, the violations of rights to privacy in exchange for national security, and the legal fate of the whistleblower.
When the story broke, news headlines first focused on Verizon releasing information relating to all their customers landline and mobile phone calls because of a special and secretive court order. The data collection focuses on the metadata; telephone numbers, call lengths, locations, and call frequency for all calls within the country and calls abroad dialed within the United States. There have been repeated assurances that the phone calls themselves were not recorded. However, the public was soon informed that the government’s collection was far broader and included internet and social media sites including Yahoo, Google and Facebook.
The administration has justified the data surveillance by stating it is important to national security and has thwarted terrorist attacks in the past. A White House official speaking to ABC News stated the program was “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States,” but complies “with the Constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.”
The government position is that this revelation to the general public would hinder their ability to protect the public from terrorism. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper released a statement which an excerpt read “The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.”
President Barack Obama speaking in California on Friday, June 7 attempted to reassure the public that their phone calls were not being recorded, “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content. But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism,” Obama said.
The phone and internet surveillance program known as PRISM has popular support in Congress and there seems there might not be grand scale opposition in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Chair of the Intelligence Committee Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA stated that the records collection was a part of the 2001 Patriot Act and said “It’s called protecting America…. I understand privacy…. we want to protect people’s private rights and that is why this is carefully done.”
President Obamas also made it clear on Friday that although the program was a secret to the public, but there was bipartisan support and knowledge of the data collection program from Congress. “The programs that have been discussed over the last couple days in the press are secret in the sense that they’re classified, but they’re not secret in the sense that when it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program,” Obama stated. The President continued “The relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs. These are programs that have been authorized by broad, bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican agreed with Obama in an interview on Tuesday morning, June 11with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “He’s a traitor,” Boehner declared about Snowden’s press leak. Boehner continued; “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”
Americans and human rights activists are left pondering can the widespread invasion of privacy sacrificed by the government be justified even for national security, even to prevent a widespread and catastrophic terror attack? The answer was no to Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked the documents on the PRISM program on the widespread data collection and privacy intrusion.
Snowden first contacted the media in January getting the wheels in motions for the big reveal. Living and working in Hawaii, Snowden took sick leave from his job and then left for Hong Kong, where he was staying at the time the leaks about the NSA was made public last week up until the disclosure Sunday, June 9 that he was the whistleblower.
In his interview with the Guardian Snowden claimed; “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
As the US government looks into charging Snowden, he has been fired from his contracting job at Booz Allen, and the conversation has veered to countries that would give him asylum. Snowden supporters have created a petition on the White House’s We the People web site stating that “Edward Snowden is a national hero” and are asking that there be a “full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed.” As of late Tuesday night, June 11 there are 58,299 signatures, with 41,701 needed for the 100,000 required for a review.
Human rights groups are standing firmly against the data collection, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the data collection program Orwellian. On Tuesday the ACLU filed a suit in federal court against the Obama Administration challenging the constitutionality of the data collection program.
If there is partisan support for the program there is also bipartisan opposition, former Vice President Al Gore a Democrat, wrote on Twitter “In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?” While a Republican and Libertarian in Congress such as Senator Rand Paul said it “represents an outrageous abuse of power.” “It is an extraordinary invasion of privacy…. I also believe that trolling through millions of phone records hampers the legitimate protection of our security,” Paul said on Fox News.
Despite the so-called broad bipartisan support, two bills have been introduced to curb data collection since details of the NSA programs appeared in the media. On Friday June 7, Senator Paul introduced a bill; the Fourth Amendment Restoration Act, which would make it necessary to obtain a warrant prior to a data search. On Tuesday June 11, eight senators in a bipartisan effort introduced a bill to end and declassify secretive data collection laws. The heavily democratic supported bill has among its ranks Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Republicans Mike Lee, Utah and Dean Heller, Nev.
At this time the public opinions seems more unclear, two conflicting polls released on Monday, June 10 from the Washington Post-Pew Research Center and Tuesday, June 11 from CBS News.
The Washington Post-Pew Research Center seems to find Americans looking favorably on the data collection. According to the poll 56 percent find it “acceptable,” and 41 percent find it “unacceptable” for the government to monitor phone data. When it came to expanding government monitoring internet activity the results differed; 52 percent did not believe it should be expanded versus 45 percent who support collection expansion.
According the CBS News poll 6 in 10 disapproved of the phone data collection program, however Americans strongly approve by three-quarters that terrorist suspects should be monitored and the internet data of foreigners. Still 53 to 40 percent believe this program helps discover terrorists.
Whatever the political fallout will be for the Obama administration and the legal outcome for Snowden there is no doubt that Snowden will be put down among the ranks of the major whistleblowers in American history.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 12, 2013
Source: Washington Post, 6-11-13
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of the U.S. government’s surveillance program that collects from U.S. phone companies the call records of tens of millions of Americans….READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 11, 2013
Source: ABC News, 6-11-13
George Stephanopoulos interviews House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in New York, June 10, 2013. (ABC News)
House Speaker John Boehner sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” to discuss the NSA leak, immigration reform, the IRS scandal and much more.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker, thank you for doin’ this. Let’s talk first about these– revelations about the National Security Agency. Edward Snowden has come forward, said he brought the documents into the public eye. His supporters say he’s– a whistle-blowing patriot. His critics say he’s betrayed the country, broken the law. Where do you stand?
JOHN BOEHNER: He’s a traitor. The president outlined last week that these were important national security programs to help keep Americans safe, and give us tools– to fight the terrorist threat th– that we face. The president also outlined that there are appropriate safeguards in place– to make sure that– there’s– there’s no– snooping, if you will– on Americans– here at home. But– the disclosure of this information– puts Americans at risk. It shows– our adversaries what our capabilities are. And– it’s a giant violation of the law….READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 11, 2013
Source: ABC News Radio, 6-10-13
Within hours of Edward Snowden’s revealing that he was the source of the National Security Agency surveillance leak last week, thousands of people had signed a petition on the White House website asking for a “full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed.”….READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 10, 2013
Source: ABC News Radio, 6-10-13
The Guardian via Getty Images
The source of a series of top secret leaks from the National Security Agency has stepped out of the shadows and identified himself as ex-CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden, saying he was standing up against the U.S. government’s “horrifying” surveillance capabilities.
“I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded,” the 29-year-old told the British newspaper The Guardian, which broke the news in a series of headline-grabbing articles on NSA surveillance late last week. “That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”…READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 10, 2013