Photo: Instagram: jon_derosa
Military helicopters land in West Mifflin Tuesday ahead of President Barack Obama's visit on Wednesday. The aircraft circled Downtown Pittsburgh on a practice run before landing.
By Kanti Kasa
January 29th 2014; President Obama's plane has landed and he will be in West Mifflin Steel Plan of Pittsburgh, PA, regarding the SOTU speech he made yesterday, to reach out to the community and encourage minimum wage to be raised! He also plans to visit other states, and cities.
In the afternoon, the President will return to Washington, DC. The departure from Pittsburgh International Airport and the arrival on the South Lawn are open press.
[ 12:15PM THE PRESIDENT arrives Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh International Airport; Open Press ]
[ 1:20PM THE PRESIDENT tours U. S. Steel Irvin Plant
West Mifflin, Pennsylvania Pooled Press ]
1:45PM THE PRESIDENT delivers remarks on retirement
U. S. Steel Irvin Plant, West Mifflin, Pennsylvania
Open to Pre-Credentialed Media
3:10PM THE PRESIDENT departs Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania en route Joint Base Andrews
Pittsburgh International Airport
By Associated Press,
The world knows Nelson Mandela as a man who forever changed the course of modern history and who will surely continue to leave his mark long after his death Thursday at the age of 95.
You may know that he spent 27 years in prison, that he led South Africa out of apartheid and that he served as his nation’s first black president.
But did you know about the role of rugby in his legacy? His musings on Valentine’s Day? The lessons he taught sympathetic prison guards during his time behind bars?
Here are some details from Mandela’s life that you might not have known.
FATHER OF THE NATION
Nelson Mandela’s place as South Africa’s premier hero is so secure that the central bank released new banknotes in 2012 showing his face. Busts and statues in his likeness dot the country and buildings, squares and other places are named after him. At Soweto’s Regina Mundi Catholic church, a center of protests and funeral services for activists during the apartheid years, there is a stained glass image of Mandela with arms raised. South African Airways even emblazoned his silhouetted image on planes.
A $1.25 million project to digitally preserve a record of Mandela’s life went online last year at http://archive.nelsonmandela.org. The project by Google and Mandela’s archivists gives researchers — and anyone else — access to hundreds of documents, photographs and videos. In one 1995 note, written in lines of neat handwriting in blue ink, Mandela muses on Valentine’s day. It appears to be a draft of a letter to a young admirer, in which Mandela said his rural upbringing by illiterate parents left him “colossally ignorant” about simple things like a holiday devoted to romance.
At his inauguration, Mandela stood hand on heart, saluted by white generals as he sang along to two anthems: the apartheid-era Afrikaans “Die Stem” (”The Voice”) and the African “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (”Lord Bless Africa”).
A NEW LIFE
When Mandela went free after 27 years, he walked hand-in-hand with his wife Winnie out of a prison on the South African mainland, and raised his right fist in triumph. In his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” he would write: “As I finally walked through those gates ... I felt — even at the age of seventy-one — that my life was beginning anew.”
A WAYS TO GO
Mandela is widely credited with helping to avert race-driven chaos as South Africa emerged from apartheid. But he could not forge lasting solutions to poverty, unemployment and other social ills that still plague his country. Though relatively stable, it has struggled to live up to its rosy depiction as the “Rainbow Nation.”
Since apartheid ended, the country has peacefully held four parliamentary elections and elected three presidents, and Mandela’s African National Congress said in 2013 the economy had expanded 83 percent since 1994. But corruption in the party has undercut some of its early promise, and the white minority is far wealthier than the black majority, partly fueling violent crime.
Mandela’s last public appearance was in 2010. Bundled up against the cold, he smiled broadly and waved to the crowd at the Soccer City stadium during the closing ceremony of the World Cup, an event that allowed his country to take the world spotlight. Mandela had kept a low profile during the monthlong tournament, deciding against attending the opening ceremony after the death of his great-grand daughter in a traffic accident following a World Cup concert.
MANDELA THE RECONCILER
Mandela was born the son of a tribal chief in Transkei, a Xhosa homeland. Many South Africans of all races call him by his clan name, Madiba, which means “reconciler,” as a token of affection and respect.
THE HARSHER SIDE
Despite his saintly image, Mandela could be harsh. When black journalists mildly criticized his government, he painted them as stooges of the whites who owned the media. Whites with complaints were sometimes dismissed as pining for their old privileges. To critics of his closeness to Fidel Castro and Moammar Gadhafi, Mandela insisted he wouldn’t forsake supporters of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Mandela eventually turned to fighting AIDS, publicly acknowledging in 2005 that his son, Makgatho, had died of the disease. The nation, which has the most people living with HIV in the world at 5.6 million, still faces stigma and high rates of infection.
Mandela celebrated holidays and hosted dignitaries among the huts of rural Qunu in a replica of the prison guard’s home where he lived during his final days of confinement. Ever self-deprecating, Mandela maintained he chose to recreate the home from Victor Verster prison because he was already familiar with it and wouldn’t “have to wander at night looking for the kitchen.” But his fellow South Africans saw the decision as an inspiring way to transform the old structure of imprisonment into one of freedom. Many of Mandela’s close relatives live in Qunu, and the family burial plot is just yards from the home.
‘A DEMOCRATIC AND FREE SOCIETY’
A statement Mandela made during his 1964 sabotage trial revealed his resolve in the fight to end white racist rule. “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people,” Mandela said. “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Two months later, he and seven other defendants were sentenced to life in prison.
UNITED BY RUGBY
In 1995, Mandela strode onto the field at the Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg wearing South African colors and bringing the overwhelmingly white crowd of more than 60,000 to its feet. “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!” they chanted as the president congratulated the victorious home team. Mandela’s decision to wear the Springbok emblem, the symbol once hated by blacks, conveyed the message that rugby, so long shunned by the black population, was now for all South Africans.
Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994. At the close of his inauguration speech, he said: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”
“Let freedom reign. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement! God bless Africa!”
Mandela was confined to the harsh Robben Island prison off the coast of Cape Town for most of his time behind bars. He and others quarried limestone there, working seven hours a day nearly every day for 12 years, until forced labor was abolished on the island. In secret, Mandela — inmate No. 46664 — wrote at night in his tiny concrete-floored cell.
It was forbidden to quote him or publish his photo, but go-betweens ferried messages from prisoners to anti-apartheid leaders in exile. Prisoners gathered in small groups for Socratic seminars, and Mandela offered lessons on the movement to guards he thought would be open to persuasion. All the guards were white; all the prisoners were black, mixed race, or Asian.
‘LOOK INTO YOURSELF’
“People tend to measure themselves by external accomplishments, but jail allows a person to focus on internal ones; such as honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, generosity and an absence of variety,” Mandela says in one of the many quotations displayed at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. “You learn to look into yourself.”
NELSON AND WINNIE
Nelson Mandela divorced Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in 1996, ending a powerful political partnership that had lasted through decades of struggle. As he remained behind bars, she became an activist leader in her own right, leading marches with a fist raised and building a base among the radical wing of the African National Congress. Madikizela-Mandela lost influence as Mandela pushed the ANC along a moderate course.
They had grown apart politically by the time he emerged from prison, and soon the personal toll of the years of physical separation became apparent. But after Mandela retired from public life and focused on the family that had been relegated to second place during his struggle against apartheid, the mother of two of his daughters was welcome alongside his third wife at Christmases and birthdays.
After his retirement from the presidency, Mandela regularly worked from an office in the recently refurbished Johannesburg building that houses the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. The office includes framed photographs of Mandela in healthier times with his wife, Graca Machel, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, fellow activist Walter Sisulu, and others.
A boxing glove, cricket bat and a British police helmet are among the gifts on display. Glass cases show penned messages in books given to Mandela from people including Nadine Gordimer, the South African author and winner of the Nobel literature prize in 1991. Cornel West, an American civil rights activist, addressed his book, “Democracy Matters,” to: “Bro’ Nelson Mandela.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
By: Mark Trumbull
Testing was inadequate before the debut of Healthcare.gov, contractors who helped to build the Obamacare website told a House panel Thursday. And when will it be fixed? No 'exact date,' said one.
Contractors who helped to build the troubled sign-up website for Obamacare said Thursday that an insufficient testing process contributed to an error-prone rollout.
They put blame on the Obama administration – specifically the health agency that had the key role of “systems integrator” for the Healthcare.gov website – for the last-minute nature of the testing.
At the same time, the contractors expressed optimism that the website could be made to work adequately without a wholesale software rewrite.
“As painful as it sounds, ... the system is working,” Cheryl Campbell of the firm CGI Federal said at the hearing. “People will be able to enroll at a faster pace,” she asserted, with time to enroll and have coverage start by Jan. 1, 2014, if they want.
When asked if she could give a date when the site would be fixed, however, Ms. Campbell did not give a direct estimate. “I cannot give you an exact date,” she testified, saying that doing so could “raise expectations.”
The hearing marks the first time members of Congress have held a public inquiry into the technical problems that have dogged the rollout of health insurance “exchanges” under the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare." Although some states are managing their own exchanges for residents to shop for insurance, 36 states are relying on the HealthCare.gov website as their gateway.
Four panelists from different companies generally refrained from overt criticism of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which took the lead role in creating the website. But when prompted in questioning, they said that “end-to-end” testing of the system began unusually late for such a large and complex project.
Campbell and Andrew Slavitt of Optum/QSSI said integrated testing was conducted in just the final couple of weeks before the website’s launch date of Oct. 1 – the date set for the public to begin Obamacare enrollment.
Under the law, Americans must have insurance in place by March 31 next year or owe a tax penalty.
“Months would be nice” for the testing process, Mr. Slavitt told the lawmakers.
“It would have been better to have more time,” Campbell said. She said that when new software was needed in 2006 to open up access for prescription-drug coverage within Medicare, the testing period was months long. And even with that, the rollout for that Medicare expansion wasn’t smooth.
Several lawmakers described trying and failing in their own efforts to register on the website.
Slavitt said he, too, had encountered a system failure. He signed up but never got a confirmation e-mail.
“I was kicked out four times” and sometimes got blank screens, says Rep. Steve Scalise (R) of Louisiana. “Clearly [proper testing] didn't happen in this case.”
The contractors deflected questions about whether they thought politics had played a role in how CMS managed the software project – including a last-minute switch that shut off a “window shopping” feature that would allow people to browse plans without creating a personal account on the website.
"I was not given a reason" for the change, Campbell said.
According to some news reports, that decision stemmed from concern that Americans would have sticker shock on prices without learning that they might be eligible for subsidies.
A spokeswoman for CMS, in a separate briefing for reporters, expressed confidence that the website's performance is improving day by day, and that Americans will be able to get enrolled by mid-December, in order to have coverage start on Jan. 1.
While the contractors didn’t levy harsh criticism of CMS, which is employing them for lucrative contracts, neither did they place much blame on their companies.
“I haven't heard one of you apologize,” said Rep. David McKinley (R) of West Virginia.
“We absolutely take accountability for those first days when our tool was [not working properly],” Slavitt said at one point in the hearing.
By Paul Richter
UNITED NATIONS -- Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, told world leaders Tuesday that his government is prepared to “engage immediately in result-oriented” talks with the United States, but also complained about American economic sanctions and military intervention in the Middle East.
In a widely anticipated speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Rouhani said that Iran and the U.S. “can arrive at a framework to manage our differences,” adding that his government has no desire to increase tensions between the two longtime adversaries.
He said he had listened carefully to President Obama’s speech in the morning, in which the U.S. leader called for an intense diplomatic effort to overcome differences about Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
The 64-year-old cleric emphasized his desire for tolerance and moderation. But despite the predictions of Western diplomats, his speech included no major gestures to win over Iran's critics, such as an acknowledgment of the Holocaust.
Rouhani's remarks were far milder than those of his fiery predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at similar gatherings. But like Ahmadinejad, he did not miss an opportunity to catalog what he sees as America's misdeeds and staunchly defended Iran’s policies abroad.
He condemned the United States' use of drones and recalled the “millions” of lives lost in Iraq.He complained about American activists who have pushed for tough action against Iran, calling them “warmongering pressure groups.”
And he faulted U.S. officials for repeating that “the military option is on the table” when he said the preferred option should be peace.
Rouhani said his election in June showed the “moderation” of the Iranian public and said the country “poses absolutely no threat to the world or region.”
He said Western sanctions were “violent” and hurt not only their intended target, but also unintended victims, as well as the countries that imposed them.
Cliff Kupchan, an Iran specialist at the Eurasia Group consulting firm, said Rouhani's speech was "the minimum reach-out he could have done."
"Why is a difficult question," Kupchan said. "Probably domestic politics, but could be he's tougher than we thought."
By Scott Wilson and Zachary A. Goldfarb
President Obama said Tuesday he will revive his push to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a first-term campaign promise that a Democratic-led Congress rejected as impractical and potentially unsafe.
With a majority of Guantanamo’s 166 detainees on a mass hunger strike, Obama said at a White House news conference that the existence of the facility damages the country’s image abroad, costs too much money and undermines U.S. counterterrorism efforts by serving as a recruiting tool for militants.
“I’m going to go back at this,” he said. “I’m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interests of the American people.”
Obama’s appearance before the media Tuesday highlighted how much his second and final term remains consumed by the unfinished business of his first.
From his policy toward Syria to health-care legislation to his inability to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Obama faced many of the same questions that have defined much of his time in office.
He used long, sometimes defensive answers to portray himself as undaunted by the unresolved challenges, yet also limited in his ability to secure the changes he has sought because of his continuing confrontation with a divided Congress.
That self-assessment of his political power also is largely consistent with his message to the nation since Democrats lost control of the House in 2010. His domestic agenda has largely ground to a halt since then.
Now his window for progress in Congress is even smaller than it once was, and may close entirely after the 2014 midtermsunless his party can take control of both chambers.
It was unclear Tuesday how he intends to revive his political prospects after setbacks on gun control and fiscal negotiations to avoid across-the-board spending cuts — known as sequestration — that he acknowledged are undermining the economy.
“Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point,” Obama said during the news conference, in a phrase reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s 1995 assertion of his own relevance after his party lost the House the previous year.
But in responding to a journalist’s assertion that he appears powerless in dealing with Congress, Obama responded, “You seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave.”
“That’s their job,” he said.
The news conference fell on the 100th day of what for Obama has already been a difficult second term. Just this month, he lost his high-profile bid for stricter gun control following the December shootings in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six educators.
Days after that Senate defeat, the first large-scale bombing in the post-Sept. 11, 2001 era killed three and wounded more than 250 others near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Last week, his administration also informed Congress that it has “varying degrees of confidence” in evidence suggesting that chemical weapons have been used in Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 70,000 people.
One issue that is making progress in Congress, largely without Obama’s direct help, is immigration legislation that many Republicans back as a way to bolster support among Hispanic voters.
The president said that passing an immigration overhaul would be a “historic achievement.” He also expressed optimism that a series of recent meetings with Republican senators could lead to a budget agreement.
“There’s a genuine desire on many of their parts to move past not only sequester but Washington dysfunction,” Obama said.
Even his health-care law — the signature legislation of his presidency — remains a work in progress. Obama defended the complicated implementation process that will extend health care to the estimated 15 percent of the population that does not have it.
In assuring the public that the process is not nearly as messy as some members of Congress have portrayed it, Obama said anyone who has health insurance will probably see no further changes as the law takes full effect. He also warned of challenges ahead.
“Even if we do everything perfectly, there will still be glitches and bumps,” Obama said.
His pledge for a renewed effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay comes as the hunger strike by detainees has highlighted the legal ambiguities surrounding their detention. Obama has been working to shutter the prison since the day after he took office in 2009; on Tuesday he again cited Congress as the chief obstacle.
Of the 166 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, 100 are on a hunger strike, with 21 being force-fed, according to Lt. Col. Samuel House, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo. House said five of the hunger-striking detainees are being treated in a hospital at the base, but none has a life-threatening condition.
The Navy also sent 40 additional medical personnel to Guantanamo Bay over the weekend in response to the increasing numbers of detainees on hunger strike. The military said the move was planned several weeks ago.
Defending the move, Obama said Tuesday, “I don’t want these individuals to die.”
According to lawyers for the detainees, the initial catalyst for the three-month-old hunger strike was newly aggressive searches by guards that involved the manhandling of the Koran.
The military said all searches of Korans were conducted by Muslim cultural advisers, not by the guard force. They noted that in the past detainees have used their Korans to hide contraband.
The hunger strike has since become a wider protest against what the detainees viewed as the administration’s abandonment of its effort to close the facility, according to both the military and detainees’ lawyers.
About 86 detainees at Guantanamo have been cleared for transfer home or resettlement in a third country by a Justice Department-led interagency task force. But the transfer process ground to a halt after Congress imposed restrictions on moving detainees.
Human rights groups praised Obama’s decision to resurrect efforts to close the military detention facility, but said he already has the power to act despite congressional restrictions.
“President Obama is right to recommit to closing Guantanamo. But it’s time to do more than talk,” said Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security With Human Rights Campaign, in a statement.
Peter Finn contributed to this report.
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