kottke.org posts about Barack Obama
President Obama is a reader. NY Times book critic Michiko Kakutani interviewed Obama about his reading just before he left office.
Last Friday, seven days before his departure from the White House, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office and talked about the indispensable role that books have played during his presidency and throughout his life — from his peripatetic and sometimes lonely boyhood, when “these worlds that were portable” provided companionship, to his youth when they helped him to figure out who he was, what he thought and what was important.
During his eight years in the White House — in a noisy era of information overload, extreme partisanship and knee-jerk reactions — books were a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration, and gave him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.
During his tenure in office, the President publicly recommended 86 different books, compiled into one list by Entertainment Weekly. Here are several of them, some of which I have also read and recommended on this very site:
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Dr. Atul Gawande
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan
The Power Broker, Robert A. Caro
Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Working, Studs Terkel
Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow
The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin
What Is the What, Dave Eggers
Our most widely read US President, for sure.
Update: I’m getting some pushback on my assertion that Obama was “our most widely read US President”. Since “widely read” seems to have multiple meanings, I should have been more explicit on what I meant. I didn’t mean that he had written the most books read by the most people (that is perhaps Teddy Roosevelt) or had read the most books (George W. Bush and Roosevelt were both voracious readers, as were Jefferson, Clinton, and Lincoln). I meant that compared to previous Presidents, Obama has read books from the widest spectrum of viewpoints and authors. Among the list of 86 (which are not the books he read in office but just the ones he publicly recommended) are books on politics (of course), science, economics, sports, and medicine, some classics, children’s books, plenty of fiction, and science fiction. Most importantly, the list includes many books written by women and persons of color. Judging by this (partial) George W. Bush reading list (which includes only two books written by women (one of whom is his daughter)), outside of Clinton and perhaps Carter, I would wager very few Presidents have read many books by women and no more than a token few books by black authors.
Robert Hickey is the deputy director of The Protocol School of Washington, which provides etiquette and protocol training. In his book Honor & Respect, he covers the “correct written and oral forms of address for everyone from local officials to foreign heads of state”. For The President of the United States, the proper forms of address are:
Letter salutation: Dear Mr. President:
Complimentary close: Most respectfully,
Announced: The President of the United States
Introduction: Mr. President, may I present …
Conversation: Mr. President
And contrary to how many media outlets refer to former US Presidents, they should not be referred to as “President” (e.g. “President Bush”):
“While it is common practice in the media and elsewhere to address and identify former presidents as ‘President (Name),’ this is a mistake,” said Hickey. “Serving as President of the United States does not grant one the personal rank of ‘President’ for life. The office of President is a one-person-at-a-time role that a specific individual holds and then hands off to the next person.”
“Courtesies, honors, and special forms of address are symbols of the power of the office. They belong to the office and to the citizens, not former office holders.”
Hickey recommends “The Honorable” as an official title (e.g. “The Honorable Jimmy Carter”) and “Mr./Ms.” for conversation or salutation (e.g. “Mr. Clinton”).
While Donald Trump was officially sworn in as the President on Friday, this site will continue to refer to Trump as “Trump” or “Donald Trump”1 and not as “President Trump”. Again and again, almost to a pathological degree, Trump has demonstrated, in word and deed, that he has not earned and does not deserve our respect and the title of his office. It’s a small protest by a small “media outlet”, perhaps petty, but as long as the First Amendment still applies, I will publish what I like on my own damn website.
And since I am all for the “one-person-at-a-time” rule, this site will also continue to refer to Barack Obama as “President Obama”. He’s earned it many times over.
Lost in the shuffle over the past two weeks — with the focus on the incoming presidential administration and the Thanksgiving holiday — was President Obama’s awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 21 worthy recipients.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Many of the honorees have dedicated their lives to science, technology, and social justice, including:
Margaret H. Hamilton led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo command modules and lunar modules.
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as “Amazing Grace” and “the first lady of software,” was at the forefront of computers and programming development from the 1940s through the 1980s.
Bill and Melinda Gates established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, the foundation focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the National Basketball Association’s all-time leading scorer who helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships and the Milwaukee Bucks to another.
Ellen DeGeneres is an award-winning comedian who has hosted her popular daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, since 2003 with her trademarked humor, humility, and optimism.
Maya Lin is an artist and designer who is known for her work in sculpture and landscape art. She designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. and since then has pursued a celebrated career in both art and architecture.
You can watch the full event here or just catch the highlights:
Obama has made the most awards of the medal by any President since it was established by President Kennedy in 1963. Notable recipients though the years include Thurgood Marshall, Kennedy himself (posthumously), Cesar Chavez, Mother Teresa, Aretha Franklin, Stephen Hawking, Maya Angelou, Mies van der Rohe, Lucille Ball, Yo-Yo Ma, Julia Child, and Rosa Parks.
It is important these days to remember the good work, the good deeds, and the good fight being fought by many creative, fierce, dynamic, and rational people who need our help and attention more than ever.
That’s a portion of the 2012 US Presidential election map of the southern states broken down by county: blue ones went Barack Obama’s way and counties in red voted for Mitt Romney.
But let’s go back to the Cretaceous Period, which lasted from 145 million years ago to 65 million years ago. Back then, the coastline of what is now North America looked like this:
Along that ancient coastline of a shallow sea, plankton with carbonate skeletons lived and died in massive numbers, accumulating into large chalk formations on the bottom of the sea. When the sea level dropped and the sea drained through the porous chalk, rich bands of soil were left right along the former coastline. When that area was settled and farmed in the 19th century, that rich soil was perfect for growing cotton. And cotton production was particularly profitable, so slaves were heavily used in those areas.
McClain, quoting from Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, points out: “The part of the country possessing this thick, dark and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently they were taken there in the largest numbers.” After the Civil War, a lot of former slaves stayed on this land, and while many migrated North, their families are still there.
The counties in which slave populations were highest before the Civil War are still home to large African American populations, which tend to vote for Democratic presidential candidates, even as the whiter counties around them vote for Republicans. The voting pattern of those counties on the map follows the Cretaceous coastline of 100 million years ago — the plankton fell, the cotton grew, the slaves bled into that rich soil, and their descendants later helped a black man reach the White House.
As a chaser to the last post, here’s Hillary Clinton’s latest campaign commercial. This is right up there with the best political ads I’ve seen. Obama’s words are taken from his speech to the Congressional Black Caucus last month.
Our work’s not done. But if we are going to advance the cause of justice, and equality, and prosperity, and freedom, then we also have to acknowledge that even if we eliminated every restriction on voters, we would still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. That’s not good, that is on us.
And I am reminded of all those folks who had to count bubbles in a bar of soap, beaten trying to register voters in Mississippi. Risked everything so that they could pull that lever. So, if I hear anybody saying their vote does not matter, that it doesn’t matter who we elect, read up on your history. It matters. We’ve got to get people to vote.
In fact, if you want to give Michelle and me a good sendoff, and that was a beautiful video, but don’t just watch us walk off into the sunset now, get people registered to vote. If you care about our legacy, realize everything we stand for is at stake, on the progress we have made is at stake in this election.
My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot. Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Good schools are on the ballot. Ending mass incarceration, that’s on the ballot right now.
In the latest issue of The Economist, President Obama wrote a letter about the “four crucial areas of unfinished business in economic policy” that his successor will have to deal with.
Wherever I go these days, at home or abroad, people ask me the same question: what is happening in the American political system? How has a country that has benefited-perhaps more than any other-from immigration, trade and technological innovation suddenly developed a strain of anti-immigrant, anti-innovation protectionism? Why have some on the far left and even more on the far right embraced a crude populism that promises a return to a past that is not possible to restore — and that, for most Americans, never existed at all?
It’s true that a certain anxiety over the forces of globalisation, immigration, technology, even change itself, has taken hold in America. It’s not new, nor is it dissimilar to a discontent spreading throughout the world, often manifested in scepticism towards international institutions, trade agreements and immigration. It can be seen in Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union and the rise of populist parties around the world.
Much of this discontent is driven by fears that are not fundamentally economic. The anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment expressed by some Americans today echoes nativist lurches of the past — the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Know-Nothings of the mid-1800s, the anti-Asian sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and any number of eras in which Americans were told they could restore past glory if they just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. We overcame those fears and we will again.
Look at Obama, busting out the Know-Nothings like it ain’t nothing.
In a big feature, New York Magazine chronologically recaps Barack Obama’s presidency with help from dozens of participants, including the President himself.
More than “hope,” Obama’s candidacy promised “one America.” It is the deep irony of his presidency, and for Obama himself probably the tragedy, that the past eight years saw the country fiercely divided against itself. The president still managed to get a ridiculous amount done, advancing an unusually progressive agenda. But however Americans end up remembering the Obama years decades from now, one thing we can say for sure is that it did not feel, at the time, like an unmitigated liberal triumph. It felt like a cold civil war.
Or a never-breaking political fever. There was the tea-party rage and Occupy Wall Street. Every other week, it seemed, a new shooting. Each movement was met by a countermovement, and yet, somehow, both the left and the right were invigorated, watched over by a president marked so deeply by temperamental centrism even his supporters called him Spock. Whether you noticed or not, our culture was shaken to its core. There was a whole new civil-rights era, both for those whose skin color and for those whose love was long met by prejudice. The first iPhone was released during the 2008 campaign. We got our news from Facebook, debated consent, and took down Bill Cosby. Elon Musk built a spaceship to Mars.
The dude got a lot done, despite a Congress that fought him tooth and nail for all eight years. Writing that just reminded me: Obama’s March nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court is still pending in the Senate. They’re holding it for a possible Trump-nominated judge.
Doris Kearns Goodwin worked in the White House for LBJ and has written extensively about US Presidents: Team of Rivals (Lincoln), The Bully Pulpit (Teddy Roosevent & Taft), and No Ordinary Time (FDR & Eleanor Roosevelt). For the November issue of Vanity Fair, she visited with Barack Obama in the White House to reflect on his progress and legacy as he approaches the end of his two terms in office. The resulting conversation is excellent.
Early in my presidency, I went to Cairo to make a speech to the Muslim world. And in the afternoon, after the speech, we took helicopters out to the pyramids. And they had emptied the pyramids for us, and we could just wander around for a couple hours [at] the pyramids and the Sphinx. And the pyramids are one of those things that live up to the hype. They’re elemental in ways that are hard to describe. And you’re going to these tombs and looking at the hieroglyphics and imagining the civilization that built these iconic images.
And I still remember it — because I hadn’t been president that long at that point — thinking to myself, There were a lot of people during the period when these pyramids were built who thought they were really important. And there was the equivalent of cable news and television and newspapers and Twitter and people anguishing over their relative popularity or position at any given time. And now it’s all just covered in dust and sand. And all that people know [today] are the pyramids.
Sometimes I carry with me that perspective, which tells me that my particular worries on any given day — how I’m doing in the polls or what somebody is saying about me … for good or for ill — isn’t particularly relevant. What is relevant is: What am I building that lasts?
I particularly enjoyed the part early on about ambition, adversity, and empathy. Oh, this short anecdote from Goodwin about LBJ is great:
L.B.J. had his amphibious car when he was president. He tricked me and took me in his car one day, and the Secret Service collaborated with him. L.B.J., behind the wheel, warned me, “Be careful, we’re going toward a lake. The brakes aren’t working.” Well, we go into the lake: the car became a boat. Then he got so mad at me because I didn’t get scared. I’d figured, He’s not going to die. And he said, “Don’t you Harvard people have enough sense to be scared?”
Has anyone in one of these interviews really pressed Obama on his drone policy? I think it’s the one big stain on his record and would love to hear his personal defense of it in length.
The White House just released President Obama’s summer reading list. Here’s what’s on it:
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
I’m currently reading Seveneves and The Underground Railroad is next. More convinced than ever that a) Barry and I would be good friends if such an opportunity arose, and b) he should be reading kottke.org if he isn’t already. He could peruse it between his fifth and sixth almonds at the end of the day. Think about it, Mr. President.
What a completely delightful video of 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin visiting the White House and meeting President and Mrs. Obama. This is the Webster’s definition of pure joy.
I don’t know much about McLaurin’s life story — she’s originally from South Carolina, first married at 14 — but when she was 10, the Civil War had ended only 55 years earlier. As a child, she likely knew and talked with people who were former slaves. And now she’s dancing with a black President in the White House. The Great Span continues to work its magic.
From the NY Times and Redglass Pictures, a video in which political advisor Mark McKinnon details how to win an election. His short answer: “successful campaigns tell a good story”. My “favorite” part is after discussing his irresponsible fear-mongering campaign for Bush in 2004, McKinnon talks about bowing out of the McCain campaign because he believed Obama was a good man and good for the country and he didn’t want to smear him. Wish he could have moved procuring a conscience up a few years. NSFW if you, like me, see George W. Bush and involuntarily start loudly swearing like a sailor.
Laura June likes Bernie Sanders in many ways but is going to vote for Hillary Clinton because Clinton is a woman.
As with many issues that stem from the fact of my motherhood — breast-feeding, co-sleeping — I speak only for myself, and cannot generalize my experience from “I am” to “you should.” I only know in my heart that I simply don’t want my daughter to grow up in a world where a woman has never been president. And if not now, when?
I’m a woman, and a mother, and I’m voting for Hillary Clinton for my daughter, and for her future.
If I had a vote to cast in the upcoming NY Democratic primary, I would also vote for Hillary Clinton and also because she is a woman. I believe the most important and longest-lasting effect of Barack Obama’s election in 2008 is that tens of millions of kids (of all racial backgrounds) got to experience an African American being President. Those kids are going to grow up knowing, and not just theoretically, that a non-white person can be elected (and even re-elected) President of the United States. Clinton’s election would send a similar message to those same kids (both girls and boys): a woman can be elected President. I think it would have a huge future effect, more than any of the policy differences between her and Sanders, especially back-to-back with an Obama presidency.
President Obama announces a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.
How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.
Here’s Obama’s Op-Ed on the topic.
“It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” That’s a quote on solitary from John McCain from an old New Yorker piece from Atul Gawande: Hellhole. (via nextdraft)
Last week, after the State of the Union address, President Obama was interviewed by three prominent YouTube users. Oh, the outcry that arose! (Even though he did the same thing last year.) The President giving valuable country-running time over to mere social media stars, what has this country come to?
Well, it turns out if you get different kinds of people asking different kinds of questions, you’re going to get answers you normally wouldn’t hear. Case in point: Ingrid Nilsen was one of the three YouTubers chosen to interview the President. She asked him to talk about a meaningful item from his house and the President told a wonderful story about what he carries in his pockets every day:
Obama continues to be delightful and Nilsen might be my new favorite person after watching her YT channel for a bit this morning. I mean, just watch the first few minutes of this video where she came out to her viewers.
From a current Washington DC resident and father, an opinion piece in the NY Times called Guns Are Our Shared Responsibility.
Even as I continue to take every action possible as president, I will also take every action I can as a citizen. I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform. And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reforms join me, we will elect the leadership we deserve.
All of us have a role to play - including gun owners. We need the vast majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us after every mass shooting, who support common-sense gun safety and who feel that their views are not being properly represented, to stand with us and demand that leaders heed the voices of the people they are supposed to represent.
The gun industry also needs to do its part. And that starts with manufacturers.
As Americans, we hold consumer goods to high standards to keep our families and communities safe. Cars have to meet safety and emissions requirements. Food has to be clean and safe. We will not end the cycle of gun violence until we demand that the gun industry take simple actions to make its products safer as well. If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should also make sure she can’t pull the trigger of a gun.
I applaud the President for his actions, but I am skeptical of technological solutions to social and political problems about guns. I don’t know about you, but my son has been able to open child-proof medicine bottles since he was about 5 years old. Two-year-olds can unlock iPhones and make in-app purchases. The idea of a “safe gun” is a dangerous oxymoron — there’s always the matter of the metal designed to rip through human flesh.
Pete Souza’s job for the past seven years has been to take photographs of the goings-on at the White House, including its inhabitants, staff, and guests. Behind the Lens: 2015 Year in Photographs is a selection of more than 100 photographs that Souza and his staff took last year. A few favorites:
That’s the Obamas beginning a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of the brutal police attack of peaceful march to Montgomery accompanied by some of the original marchers. I love the looks on the faces of the various marchers: the dignified determination of John Lewis, the appropriate solemnity of the President and First Lady, and the carefree expressions of Sasha and Malia.1
Obama’s like Subzero from Mortal Kombat but with rainbows.
I’m not sure there will ever be another President in my lifetime I love as much as this one.
President Obama is meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch today to discuss possible executive actions to curb gun violence.
Recalling the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people — 20 of them children — and left many grimly hopeful it would lead to an overhaul of the nation’s gun laws, the president accused lawmakers of bowing to the gun lobby and blocking necessary changes.
“All across America, survivors of gun violence and those who lost a child, a parent, a spouse to gun violence are forced to mark such awful anniversaries every single day,” Mr. Obama said. “And yet Congress still hasn’t done anything to prevent what happened to them from happening to other families.”
Update: Obama announced his plans for increased gun control today in an emotional speech. Vox has an explanation of the actions that will be taken.
Obama’s off for a couple of vacation weeks on Martha’s Vineyard and is taking the following books with him on vacation: All That Is by James Salter, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. Solid.
My summer reading list so far: Quiet, The Antidote, The Martian, Ready Player One, and the kids and I are slowly working our way through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Update: POTUS has also made a Spotify playlist of his favorite summer songs. The Temptations, Dylan, Coldplay, and Aretha. No Jay or Bey?
Update: Ah, he also made a list for a summer night and there’s some Beyonce on there. Thank you, Mr. President.
Jon Stewart visited the White House. And Obama visited The Daily Show. That gives you some idea of the influence — on both sides of the aisle — Jon Stewart has built up over his tenure.
Jon Stewart slipped unnoticed into the White House in the midst of the October 2011 budget fight, summoned to an Oval Office coffee with President Barack Obama that he jokingly told his escort felt like being called into the principal’s office.
Seymour Hersh, writing for the London Review of Books, says that the American account of how Osama bin Laden was located, captured, and killed is not entirely true. In particular, he alleges that bin Laden was being held in Pakistan since 2006 and that members of the Pakistani military knew of and supported the raid.
It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.
And the plan all along was to kill bin Laden…the Pakistanis insisted on it.
It was clear to all by this point, the retired official said, that bin Laden would not survive: ‘Pasha told us at a meeting in April that he could not risk leaving bin Laden in the compound now that we know he’s there. Too many people in the Pakistani chain of command know about the mission. He and Kayani had to tell the whole story to the directors of the air defence command and to a few local commanders.
‘Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,’ the retired official said. ‘Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.’ A former Seal commander, who has led and participated in dozens of similar missions over the past decade, assured me that ‘we were not going to keep bin Laden alive - to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We’ve come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, “Let’s face it. We’re going to commit a murder.”’ The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.
Hersh is a regular contributor to the New Yorker — he broke the Abu Ghraib story in the pages of the magazine — so I wonder why this story didn’t appear there? Perhaps because it goes against the grain of their own reporting on the subject?
Update: Max Fisher writes in Vox that Hersh’s story has many problems — inconsistencies and thin sourcing to start — and is indicative of Hersh’s “slide off the rails” from investigative journalism to conspiracy theories.
On Sunday, the legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh finally released a story that he has been rumored to have been working on for years: the truth about the killing of Osama bin Laden. According to Hersh’s 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books, the official history of bin Laden’s death — in which the US tracked him to a compound in Abottabad, Pakistan; killed him a secret raid that infuriated Pakistan; and then buried him at sea —- is a lie.
Hersh’s story is amazing to read, alleging a vast American-Pakistani conspiracy to stage the raid and even to fake high-level diplomatic incidents as a sort of cover. But his allegations are largely supported only by two sources, neither of whom has direct knowledge of what happened, both of whom are retired, and one of whom is anonymous. The story is riven with internal contradictions and inconsistencies.
The story simply does not hold up to scrutiny — and, sadly, is in line with Hersh’s recent turn away from the investigative reporting that made him famous into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.
The single source for most of the juiciest details in the piece was the most glaring issue. My Spidey Sense started tingling as I read the latter third…it sounded like Hersh was quoting some dude in a bar who “had a friend who told me this story”. I wonder how much of this was fact-checked and corroborated?
And on Hersh’s affiliation with the New Yorker, they repeatedly rejected the story:
(Indeed, when I first heard about Hersh’s bin Laden story a few years from a New Yorker editor — the magazine, the editor said, had rejected it repeatedly, to the point of creating bad blood between Hersh and editor-in-chief David Remnick — this was the version Hersh was said to favor.)
If you look at Hersh’s page at the NYer, his contributions have dropped off. His only piece in the past two years was a revisiting of his earlier reporting on My Lai. (via @tskjockey)
Update: From Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine, Why Seymour Hersh’s ‘Alternative’ bin Laden History Did Not Appear in The New Yorker.
When I spoke to Hersh earlier today, it was clear that there is tension. Hersh told me that he published the piece in the LRB because Remnick was not interested in having him write a magazine piece on the bin Laden raid. Hersh explained that, days after the May 2, 2011 SEAL operation, he told Remnick that his intelligence sources were saying Obama’s account was fiction. “I knew right away that there were problems with the story,” Hersh told me. “I just happen to have sources. I’m sorry, but I do.” Hersh told Remnick he wanted to write a piece for the magazine.
“David said, ‘Do a blog,’” Hersh recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t want to do a blog.’ It’s about money. I get paid a lot more writing a piece for The New Yorker [magazine] … I’m old and cranky.” (Remnick declined to comment).
Through reporting of its own, NBC News has confirmed parts of Hersh’s story.
The NBC News sources who confirm that a Pakistani intelligence official became a “walk in” asset include the special operations officer and a CIA officer who had served in Pakistan. These two sources and a third source, a very senior former U.S. intelligence official, also say that elements of the ISI were aware of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The former official was emphatic about the ISI’s awareness, saying twice, “They knew.”
R.J. Hillhouse claims she should get credit for breaking this story because of two pieces she wrote in 2011, using information from “clearly different” sources.
President Obama delivered two key messages during his speech in Selma over the weekend. One, it’s a mistake to suggest that racism is banished in America.
We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true.
And two, we’ve made a lot of progress:
If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
It’s worth putting politics and cynicism aside long enough to consider that on Saturday, a black President spoke at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. There’s a long way to go, but that’s a hell of a 50 years.
Steven Brill has written a book about the making of the Affordable Care Act called America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System.
America’s Bitter Pill is Steven Brill’s much-anticipated, sweeping narrative of how the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was written, how it is being implemented, and, most important, how it is changing — and failing to change — the rampant abuses in the healthcare industry. Brill probed the depths of our nation’s healthcare crisis in his trailblazing Time magazine Special Report, which won the 2014 National Magazine Award for Public Interest. Now he broadens his lens and delves deeper, pulling no punches and taking no prisoners.
Malcolm Gladwell has a review in the New Yorker this week.
Brill’s intention is to point out how and why Obamacare fell short of true reform. It did heroic work in broadening coverage and redistributing wealth from the haves to the have-nots. But, Brill says, it didn’t really restrain costs. It left incentives fundamentally misaligned. We needed major surgery. What we got was a Band-Aid.
I haven’t read his book yet, but I agree with Brill on one thing: the ACA1 did not go nearly far enough. Healthcare and health insurance are still a huge pain in the ass and still too expensive. My issues with healthcare particular to my situation are:
- As someone who is self-employed, insurance for me and my family is absurdly expensive. After the ACA was enacted, my insurance cost went up and the level of coverage went down. I’ve thought seriously about quitting my site and getting an actual job just to get good and affordable healthcare coverage.
- Doctors aren’t required to take any particular health insurance. So when I switched plans, as I had to when the ACA was enacted, finding insurance that fit our family’s particular set of doctors (regular docs, pediatrician, pediatric specialist that one of the kids has been seeing for a couple of years, OB/GYN, etc.) was almost impossible. We basically had one plan choice (not even through the ACA marketplace…see next item) or we had to start from scratch with new doctors.
- Many doctors don’t take the ACA plans. My doctor doesn’t take any of them and my kids’ doc only took a couple. And they’re explicit in accepting, say, United Healthcare’s regular plan but not their ACA plan, which underneath the hood is the exact same plan that costs the same and has the same benefits. It’s madness.
- The entire process is designed to be confusing so that insurance companies (and hospitals probably too) can make more money. I am an educated adult whose job is to read things so they make enough sense to tell others about them. That’s what I spend 8+ hours a day doing. And it took me weeks to get up to speed on all the options and pitfalls and gotchas of health insurance…and I still don’t know a whole lot about it. It is the most un-user-friendly thing I have ever encountered.
The ACA did do some great things, like making everyone eligible for health insurance and getting rid of the preexisting conditions bullshit, and that is fantastic…the “heroic work” mentioned by Gladwell. But the American healthcare system is still an absolute shambling embarrassment when you compare it to other countries around the world, even those in so-called “developing” or “third world” countries. And our political system is just not up to developing a proper plan, so I guess we’ll all just limp along as we have been. Guh.
This Frank Rich interview with Chris Rock is fantastic, full of keen comedic, political, and sociological insights from Rock.
Q: What do you think of how he’s done? Here we are in the last two years of his presidency, and there’s a sense among his supporters of disappointment, that he’s disengaged.
A: I’m trying to figure out the right analogy. Everybody wanted Michael Jordan, right? We got Shaq. That’s not a disappointment. You know what I mean? We got Charles Barkley. It’s still a Hall of Fame career. The president should be graded on jobs and peace, and the other stuff is debatable. Do more people have jobs, and is there more peace? I guess there’s a little more peace. Not as much peace as we’d like, but I mean, that’s kind of the gig. I don’t recall anybody leaving on an up. It’s just that kind of job. I mean, the liberals that are against him feel let down because he’s not Bush. And the thing about George Bush is that the kid revolutionized the presidency. How? He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him. He literally operated like a cable network. You know what I mean?
Q: He pandered to his target audience.
A: He’s the first cable-television president, and the thing liberals don’t like about Obama is that he’s a network guy. He’s kind of Les Moonves. He’s trying to get everybody. And I think he’s figured out, and maybe a little late, that there’s some people he’s never going to get.
Q: What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?
A: I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.
Q: Well, that would be much more revealing.
A: Yes, that would be an event. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.
Q: Right. It’s ridiculous.
A: So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
Q: It’s about white people adjusting to a new reality?
A: Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.
Today, President Obama came out strongly for net neutrality and asked for the FCC’s help in implementing his plan.
More than any other invention of our time, the Internet has unlocked possibilities we could just barely imagine a generation ago. And here’s a big reason we’ve seen such incredible growth and innovation: Most Internet providers have treated Internet traffic equally. That’s a principle known as “net neutrality” — and it says that an entrepreneur’s fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student’s blog shouldn’t be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.
That’s what President Obama believes, and what he means when he says there should be no gatekeepers between you and your favorite online sites and services.
Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality”, reacted positively to the President’s statement.
With another compromise looming, the President today released a video that suggests, in short, that he’s had it. In unusually explicit terms, he has told the agency exactly what it should do. Enough with the preëmptive compromises, the efforts to appease the carriers, and other forms of wiggle and wobble. Instead, the President said, enact a clear, bright-line ban on slow lanes, and fire up the agency’s strongest legal authority, Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, the “main guns” of the battleship F.C.C.
Motherboard notes that the classification of the internet as a utility would not include rate regulations.
To do this, Obama said the FCC should reclassify internet services as a utility, but should do it in a way that has slightly different rules than say, an electric company. Obama’s suggested rules focus specifically on net neutrality and service interruption, not prices, a concession to big telecom companies.
“I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services,” he said.
In a series of tweets, historian Yoni Appelbaum connects the dots between net neutrality and the Affordable Care Act a bit more elegantly than Ted Cruz did:
Obama’s call for net neutrality his latest effort to grow the economy by defending equality of opportunity. The ACA is the biggest boon for entrepreneurs in generations, allowing individuals to take economic risks without risking their health. The common thread here is a policy framework giving individuals the same access to essential resources as enormous institutions. Obama prefers to stress commonalities than to define his policies in such oppositional terms. But still, that’s what he’s doing here.
This makes me think of Tom Junod’s piece on increased access passes at a water park, The Water-Park Scandal and the Two Americas in the Raw: Are We a Nation of Line-Cutters, Or Are We the Line?
It wouldn’t be so bad, if the line still moved. But it doesn’t. It stops, every time a group of people with Flash Passes cut to the front. You used to be able to go on, say, three or four rides an hour, even on the most crowded days. Now you go on one or two. After four hours at Whitewater the other day, my daughter and I had gone on five. And so it’s not just that some people can afford to pay for an enhanced experience. It’s that your experience — what you’ve paid full price for — has been devalued. The experience of the line becomes an infernal humiliation; and the experience of avoiding the line becomes the only way to enjoy the water park. You used to pay for equal access; now you have to pay for access that’s more equal than the access afforded others. The commonality of experience is lost, and the lines are striated not simply by who can pay for a Flash Pass and who can’t; they’re also striated by race and class. The people sporting the Flash Passes are almost exclusively white, and they tend to be in better shape than those stuck on line. They tend to have fewer tattoos, and to look less, well, pagan. And by the end of the day, they start cutting lines where Flash Passes don’t even apply — because they feel entitled to — and none of them, not even their kids, will so much as look at you.
I think 2008 and 2012 Obama voters are nodding their heads here at Appelbaum’s and Junod’s thoughts…Obama’s statement on net neutrality and the rationale behind it is what they voted for. If you watched any of Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts on PBS, you’ll recognize this is right out of TR’s and FDR’s playbooks. Worth noting also that Teddy was a Republican and FDR a Democrat.
Ira Glass doesn’t have any idea who Jill Abramson was or that she was fired.
Jill Abramson was fired.
I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Jill Abramson got fired from the New York Times.
Okay. And she was who?
The executive editor.
Okay. I read the newspaper, but I live in my own little bubble. When did that happen?
Wednesday. And it’s been a massive … the blogosphere is going wild.
I hate reading media news so I actively sort of - I’m not interested in someone getting fired. No disrespect to people that are, but I literally had no idea who she was, or that she got fired until this moment.
I love this. Not like ironically or in the sense that I think Glass is a moron for being a media person who doesn’t know what’s going on with the media; I actually love it. There is very little about the Times’ story that isn’t just straight-up gossip. And for someone like Glass who traffics in ideas and is busy producing something of high quality like This American Life, media gossip just isn’t that important.
And as @jess_mc reminded me, this Glass thing isn’t nearly as entertaining as DMX not knowing who Barack Obama was in early 2008.
Wow, Barack! The nigga’s name is Barack. Barack? Nigga named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain’t his fuckin’ name. Ima tell this nigga when I see him, “Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit” [laughs] “That ain’t your fuckin’ name.” Your momma ain’t name you no damn Barack.
Some light weekend reading: the New Yorker’s David Remnick checks in on how the Obama Presidency is going, five years in.
When Obama leaves the White House, on January 20, 2017, he will write a memoir. “Now, that’s a slam dunk,” the former Obama adviser David Axelrod told me. Andrew Wylie, a leading literary agent, said he thought that publishers would pay between seventeen and twenty million dollars for the book-the most ever for a work of nonfiction-and around twelve million for Michelle Obama’s memoirs. (The First Lady has already started work on hers.) Obama’s best friend, Marty Nesbitt, a Chicago businessman, told me that, important as the memoir might be to Obama’s legacy and to his finances, “I don’t see him locked up in a room writing all the time. His capacity to crank stuff out is amazing. When he was writing his second book, he would say, ‘I’m gonna get up at seven and write this chapter-and at nine we’ll play golf.’ I would think no, it’s going to be a lot later, but he would knock on my door at nine and say, ‘Let’s go.’” Nesbitt thinks that Obama will work on issues such as human rights, education, and “health and wellness.” “He was a local community organizer when he was young,” he said. “At the back end of his career, I see him as an international and national community organizer.”
Remnick also wrote about Obama’s first campaign back in 2008.
Barack Obama could not run his campaign for the Presidency based on political accomplishment or on the heroic service of his youth. His record was too slight. His Democratic and Republican opponents were right: he ran largely on language, on the expression of a country’s potential and the self-expression of a complicated man who could reflect and lead that country. And a powerful thematic undercurrent of his oratory and prose was race. Not race as invoked by his predecessors in electoral politics or in the civil-rights movement, not race as an insistence on tribe or on redress; rather, Obama made his biracial ancestry a metaphor for his ambition to create a broad coalition of support, to rally Americans behind a narrative of moral and political progress. He was not its hero, but he just might be its culmination.
When you consider the alternatives — even, and perhaps especially, if you are deeply concerned with sparing civilians — you are led, as Obama was, to the logic of the drone.
The Atlantic’s Mark Bowden provides his take on how to think about drones: The Killing Machines.
Steven Spielberg is doing a sequel to Lincoln called Obama and he got Daniel Day-Lewis to play the lead. I knew Day-Lewis was good, but this is bonkers.
Rand Paul has had the floor to the Senate for 10 hours now, filibustering against the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. You can watch here. What’s a filibuster?
A filibuster in the United States Senate usually refers to any dilatory or obstructive tactics used to prevent a measure from being brought to a vote. The most common form of filibuster occurs when a senator attempts to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a bill by extending the debate on the measure, but other dilatory tactics exist. The rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless “three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn” (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII.
What’s Paul upset about? Drones:
Paul said that all presidents must honor the Fifth Amendment. “No American should ever be killed in their house without warrant and some kind of aggressive behavior by them,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “To be bombed in your sleep? There’s nothing American about that … [Obama] says trust him because he hasn’t done it yet. He says he doesn’t intend to do so, but he might. Mr. President, that’s not good enough … so I’ve come here to speak for as long as I can to draw attention to something that I find to really be very disturbing.”
“I will not sit quietly and let him shred the Constitution,” Paul added.”No person will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process,” he said, quoting the Fifth Amendment.
I have written about Obama’s continued use of drones before.
This Justice Department memo about when the US government, without hearing or trial or due process or whatever other “rights” we as a country hold dear, can kill US citizens is fucking bullshit.
A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.
The whole memo is here. A staggering disappointment from a man many think is better than this. See also: Obama’s lethal Presidency.