NELSON MANDELA MEMORIAL
Nelson Mandela was memorialized in a boisterous stadium ceremony here Tuesday as a teacher and a racial healer, a transcendent figure who changed history and touched hearts in his native country and around the world. Scores of thousands of South Africans braved a pouring rain to join dozens of world leaders, including President Obama and many other heads of state, for a four-hour service filled with emotional tributes and joyous song. “It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you,” Obama said, using the Xhosa tribal name that Mandela preferred. “He changed laws, but also hearts.” South Africans from all walks of life, business executives to nurses to the unemployed, danced and clapped and sang in the hours leading up to the memorial service, their voices echoing across the stadium as if they were cheering at a soccer match. The rich crowded together with the poor, children with the elderly, all to remember Mandela, the former South African president and African National Congress leader who died Thursday at the age of 95.
The Air Force One flight from the U.S. to South Africa on Monday was historic not only for its final destination, but for its passenger list. Joining President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for the trip to Nelson Mandela’s memorial was former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "The President and the First Lady have been able to spend time with the Bushes and with Secretary Clinton. And so I think it’s a unique experience obviously," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters aboard the flight.
Despite late running trains, traffic, and unrelenting rain, thousands of mourners, including world leaders and celebrities, gathered together at FNB stadium to remember Nelson Mandela.
WRAL: White House calls for North Carolina to expand Medicaid
The Obama administration is pressuring North Carolina to expand its Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and disabled, something Republican lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory have said they’re not willing to do. "This is actually a net budgetary benefit to those states that choose to expand Medicaid," said Josh Earnest, principal deputy press secretary for President Barack Obama. Earnest along with Durham Mayor Bill Bell and state Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, participated in a conference call with North Carolina-based reporters today.
A WRAL News review of thousands of pages of emails and other public records shows that for more than a month starting July 15, counties across the state struggled with a buggy, sluggish system that frequently froze up and prevented workers from keying in cases. By the time the NC FAST team identified the problem as a simple browser compatibility issue in late August, almost 70,000 food stamp customers statewide – many of them families with children – were waiting on overdue benefits, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s 8.5 percent of the number of clients the state currently serves every month. "July 15 was a date all of us will remember well," said Tammy Schrenker, president of the N.C. Association of County Directors of Social Services. "Many of us, I dare say all of us, experienced problems with processing food and nutrition services." But the department’s own internal assessment report shows only a small minority of counties faced problems with training, staffing and technical infrastructure. And as DHHS officials downplayed the widespread technical problems across the state, prompting frustration from social services directors, counties built up a backlog so massive that state workers were forced to tackle tens of thousands of cases themselves.
State auditors documented more than 3,200 defects in the $484 million system and said the department "has an inadequate framework for the timely resolution" of the defects. Also, the state has no comprehensive plan to address the various issues providers and others have brought up. The audit calls for establishing guidelines and a methodology for tracking the timely resolution of defects – 637 remain unresolved, almost three-fourths of which are labeled as "high" importance – and says DHHS officials should monitor vendor Computer Sciences Corp.’s performance against those metrics. "Auditors found that NCTracks defects are being resolved, however, lack of formal goals to resolve defects in a timely manner indicates that the department and CSC may not be managing all NCTracks defects efficiently," the audit states.
‘President Barack Obama challenged South Africa and the world on Tuesday to apply the immortal example of Nelson Mandela and lift children from poverty, spread freedom of belief and overcome inequality and cynicism. Invoking Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the American founding fathers, the president spoke of Mandela as “the last great liberator of the 20th century” — a man who, after emerging from prison, held his country whole without taking up arms. But the president used much of his eulogy, delivered before tens of thousands of people in Johannesburg in a pouring rain at the largest stadium on the African continent, as a call for the living to act in the name of justice and peace.
Toward the end of President Barack Obama’s roughly 15-minute speech at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service Tuesday, as the rainy skies over the stadium venue briefly brightened, his sights turned inward. “Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Nelson Mandela and the struggles in this beautiful land. It stirred something in me,” he said slowly. “And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be a better man.” And at a dignitary-packed event equal parts sadness and celebration, the emotional, rain-soaked crowd — which saved some of its loudest cheers of the day for Obama’s arrival — responded with waves and cheers to his account of Mandela’s influence on his path to the presidency.
Ending this year much as it began, Vice President Biden on Tuesday hopes to return public attention to the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and to link last December’s tragedy to the nationwide call for additional mental health services. Although the federal government in the nation’s capital officially closed Tuesday in response to an approaching winter storm, Biden is scheduled to meet at the White House with families of some of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims and advocates working to increase mental health treatment and services. They will to discuss $100 million in federal spending aimed at addressing community mental health needs.
A budget deal aimed at avoiding a U.S. government shutdown on January 15 and relieving federal agencies of some indiscriminate spending cuts that are set to begin with the new year could emerge in Congress on Tuesday, congressional aides said on Monday. Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Representative Paul Ryan are scheduled to meet on Tuesday with the goal of finalizing a deal, according to aides who asked not to be identified. While Ryan and Murray have not yet struck a deal and negotiations could still fall apart, one of the aides said, "They are very close. You could maybe see a handshake come out of that meeting" on Tuesday.
Last week, 19 of the most conservative Republicans in the House began jeering at Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., while he was teetering at the midpoint of a familiar GOP high-wire act. Despite his failed run for the vice-presidency in 2012, Ryan is said to have presidential ambitions. But he also has governing responsibilities. And he’s trying to eke out a narrow budget agreement with his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray, D-Wash., to simultaneously ease sequestration’s automatic spending cuts and reduce the threat of a government shutdown for the next couple of years. The emerging deal (details of which remain tightly held) would spare the GOP’s most sacred cows. If inked, it wouldn’t raise revenue through the tax code, and would protect the Defense Department from sequestration’s most severe cuts. At the same time, some of the savings in the deal would likely come out of the hide of federal workers who will be required to contribute more to their pension. It will just as likely contain no provision to renew emergency provisions for the long-term unemployed, which are about to lapse. But it’s still not good enough for the right.
With only days remaining for Congress to avert the year-end expiration of extended unemployment benefits, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., made news by telling Fox News Sunday that extending benefits would be “a disservice” to the more than a million Americans about to be cut off. The same morning, Paul’s colleague Dick Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat,told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos his party so far wasn’t taking a “take it or leave it” approach to including unemployment extension in talks over a short-term budget deal. “I have to say, it sounds like the spirit of Nelson Mandela is taking hold,” Stephanopoulos concluded after asking Durbin and Senate Republican Rob Portman about those budget talks. “This is a very reasonable discussion this morning. Sounds like we’re going to reach a deal this week.” For a different take on the impact and importance of unemployment benefits, Salon called up Rebecca Dixon, a policy analyst for the progressive National Employment Law Project. A condensed version of our conversation follows.
Democrat Brian Mountcastle says he will run for the state House seat held by first-term Republican Chris Malone. Mountcastle, a 36-year-old Knightdale businessman, calls himself “a middle-of-the-road, mainstream person,” who will support “strategic investments in education.” Mountcastle is the latest announced Democratic candidate to hammer on education budgets and teacher pay. “We need new leadership in Raleigh,” Mountcastle said in a statement. “The past few years have been devastating for our public schools, community colleges and university system. We need leadership in Raleigh who will focus on governing the state – not a radical conservative agenda.”
It’s official: Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers will face a challenge from the right for her second district seat next May. Frank Roche, a conservative internet talk show host from Cary, has been weighing a bid against Ellmers since October. He announced Monday that he will challenge her for the seat.
Thom Tillis’ stock in the U.S. Senate race is falling. A new Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday shows the House speaker’s support in the Republican primary dropped from 20 percent a month ago to 13 percent in December. Tillis – the establishment candidate backed by Karl Rove, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner – took 13 percent in a hypothetical match up against his GOP rivals. All five Republican candidates are clumped within 5 points in a poll with a 4.3 percent margin of error, making the race essentially a tie. A plurality – 44 percent – of Republican primary voters are still undecided in the race.
U.S. Rep. Mel Watt’s departure from Congress could trigger a complicated process to fill his seat for those who would replace him – a group that Monday grew by one. James “Smuggie” Mitchell, a former Charlotte City Council member who lost this year’s Democratic mayoral primary, announced his candidacy. He joins a group of at least five other Democrats in the 12th District, which stretches from Charlotte to Greensboro. Watt, who has held the seat since 1993, might be confirmed as early as Tuesday as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. If confirmed, he could resign his seat and be sworn in as early as this week. Watt is part of a congressional delegation that left Monday for the funeral of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) surprised the political world Monday when he filed at the last minute to challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), complicating the senator’s reelection bid just when it looked to be virtually problem-free. In doing so, Stockman not only threw a wrench in Cornyn’s plans. He also intensified the broader GOP civil war that is vexing the lives of Republican senators like never before. Seven of the 12 up for reelection next year now face capable or potentially tough primary challengers, including the two top-ranking Republicans and a third who used to serve in leadership.
Voters in eastern Massachusetts are expected on Tuesday to elect a Democratic state senator to the U.S. House of Representatives in an off-calendar special election that has attracted little local or national attention. Democrat Katherine Clark, who has campaigned on issues including improving women’s healthcare and the rising cost of college, is seen as the front-runner in a four-way race in a district that represents Boston’s near western suburbs but not the city itself. She faces Republican Frank Addivinola, Independent James Aulenti and James Hall of the Justice Peace Security party in an election to succeed Edward Markey, who in June was elected to fill the U.S. Senate seat that became open when John Kerry was named secretary of state.
The state teachers organization and the N.C. Justice Center say they will file a lawsuit Wednesday over what they are calling “unconstitutional school legislation.” The groups wouldn’t give any more details on Monday, but the N.C. Association of Educators has been talking for months about suing over the end to teacher tenure and the plan to offer private school vouchers. The two groups are having a news conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Raleigh to talk about the suit.
Teachers are leaving the state. The infant mortality rate is up. And the workforce in North Carolina is smaller today than it was in 2007. But, hey, we’re giving tax cuts to businesses and rich people, so it’s all good. You know, those folks are going to start spending their new found wealth and everybody is going to benefit. Trickle down, remember? According to this GOP mantra, all this money flowing from rich people and corporations is going to spur economic growth, increase our tax revenue and put money in everybody’s pocket. Only problem is, it doesn’t work. It never has.
Before we can get to the second, though, we have to get to the first. And what we need to get there, to the first woman elected president, is a critical mass of women in leadership positions at as many levels and in as many fields as possible. When more women become leaders and innovators not just in politics, but in the arts, the media, the sciences or academia, new channels are opened, new opportunities arise. I’ve seen the result firsthand, in my travels around the country. Women in leadership positions help improve the social and economic condition of women and girls in our society. And ultimately, everyone benefits. As Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives, said, “If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Brothers and Sisters, we probably wouldn’t have had our financial meltdown.” There’s a leadership gap in this country. Women can help fill it, and in doing so, help shape public policy in education, health care, the environment — you name it. The list goes on. It starts with increasing the women in the pipeline, so to speak — getting more women involved in politics, yes, but also providing more opportunities for women to enter a “leadership track” in other fields — and a support network when they do.
Minutes after landing in the South, I realized I was somewhere very, very different from California or New York. The air indoors was perfumed with fried chicken. The air outdoors felt humid and rich. People were… smiling. For no reason that I could see. For a few warm, smiley days, my eager hosts led me in the Southern way of life. The things they taught me have made my real life all the better.
Micah Beasley, Press Secretary
North Carolina Democratic Party
|Paid for by North Carolina Democratic Party. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.|