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kottke.org posts about Barack Obama

The Killing Machines

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2013

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.

Obama as Daniel Day-Lewis as Obama in Spielberg’s Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2013

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 eternal drone warfare filibuster

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2013

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.

When it’s OK for the US govt to kill citizens

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2013

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.

Obama’s overlooked war and lethal Presidency

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2013

Tom Junod has been on the drone beat since writing The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama in July.

Sure, we as a nation have always killed people. A lot of people. But no president has ever waged war by killing enemies one by one, targeting them individually for execution, wherever they are. The Obama administration has taken pains to tell us, over and over again, that they are careful, scrupulous of our laws, and determined to avoid the loss of collateral, innocent lives. They’re careful because when it comes to waging war on individuals, the distinction between war and murder becomes a fine one. Especially when, on occasion, the individuals we target are Americans and when, in one instance, the collateral damage was an American boy.

Individual targetting isn’t exclusively done by military drones, but they are the favored method. Junod notes that even as Obama said that “a decade of war is now ending” in his inauguration speech, a drone strike killed three suspected Al Qaeda members in Yemen.

President Obama’s second inaugural was supposed to sound something like Lincoln’s: the speech of a man tired of war, and eager to move the nation beyond its bloody reach. In truth, it was the speech of a man who has perfected a form of war that can be written off as a kind of peace. He was able to put the pain of war in the past because his efforts to expand painless war have come to fruition.

Here’s the full report on the recent Yemeni strikes from the AP:

An American drone strike on Monday on a car east of Sana, the capital, killed three people suspected of being members of Al Qaeda, said Yemeni security officials. On Saturday, two American drone strikes killed eight people in Marib Province. Yemen, aided by the United States, has been battling the local branch of Al Qaeda. The United States rarely comments on its military role in Yemen but has acknowledged targeting Qaeda militants in the past.

Dangerous dangerous precedent here. If George W. Bush were doing this sort of thing, we’d be marching in the streets about it. Why does Obama get a free pass? (And on Bradley Manning? And on Guantanamo?) Anyone in the press want to ask the President about the legality & moral stickiness of drone strikes at his next press conference?

Obama announces plan to reduce gun violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2013

At a press conference today, Vice President Biden and President Obama introduced their plan to reduce the nation’s gun violence. Here are main points:

Require criminal background checks for all gun sales.

Take four executive actions to ensure information on dangerous individuals is available to the background check system.

Reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban.

Restore the 10-round limit on ammunition magazines.

Protect police by finishing the job of getting rid of armor-piercing bullets.

Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime.

End the freeze on gun violence research.

Make our schools safer with more school resource officers and school counselors, safer climates, and better emergency response plans.

Help ensure that young people get the mental health treatment they need.

Ensure health insurance plans cover mental health benefits.

Here’s the press conference in its entirety:

The NY Times has an overview of their remarks.

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2013

When President Obama did an interview on Reddit in August, one of the questions he got was:

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

Obama declined to answer the question, but Conor Friedersdorf decided to ask a waterfowl expert what he thought and the answer involves an interesting mix of science:

With such a huge body, the problem of surface area to body volume comes into play. The terror-ducktyl would have a problem losing heat. Hence, a possible tactic would be to get it running around chasing me and it might overheat, stroke out, and die. Birds have higher body temperatures than mammals in any case (often very close to the 40 degrees Celsius upper lethal limit) so it might not take too much to push the duck over the metabolic cliff. Merits consideration.

and politics:

After engaging his graduate students in conversation, he came to realize that it would be politically disastrous for Obama to fight the duck-sized horses. Think about it. In America, the duck lobby is composed of duck hunters. The horse lobby is made up of horse lovers who succeeded in stopping Californians from buying horse meat. The young women voters essential to the Democratic coalition are far more sympathetic to veritable ponies than a giant, rape-obsessed mallard. Shooting the duck would be perfectly legal under existing law, or would at worst result in a citation for hunting without a license.

See also The Biology of B-Movie Monsters by Michael LaBarbera, a classic and one of my favorite internet things ever.

When the Incredible Shrinking Man stops shrinking, he is about an inch tall, down by a factor of about 70 in linear dimensions. Thus, the surface area of his body, through which he loses heat, has decreased by a factor of 70 x 70 or about 5,000 times, but the mass of his body, which generates the heat, has decreased by 70 x 70 x 70 or 350,000 times. He’s clearly going to have a hard time maintaining his body temperature (even though his clothes are now conveniently shrinking with him) unless his metabolic rate increases drastically.

Luckily, his lung area has only decreased by 5,000-fold, so he can get the relatively larger supply of oxygen he needs, but he’s going to have to supply his body with much more fuel; like a shrew, he’ll probably have to eat his own weight daily just to stay alive. He’ll also have to give up sleeping and eat 24 hours a day or risk starving before he wakes up in the morning (unless he can learn the trick used by hummingbirds of lowering their body temperatures while they sleep).

Obama’s poor record on gun control

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2012

Despite promises leading up to the 2008 Presidential election of strengthening the nation’s gun control laws, President Obama has done nothing but offer condolences to those affected by mass shootings.

There has been no shortage of sorrow-filled words from Barack Obama following each of the tragic mass killings that have afflicted his presidency.

Obama described the wounding of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and deaths of six other people, including a young girl, in Tucson, Arizona, last year as a “tragedy for our entire country” and called for a “national dialogue” on how Americans treat each other.

He struck much the same theme in July following the killing of 12 people at a Colorado cinema. A month later, Obama called for “soul searching” on how to reduce violence after a white supremacist murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

The searing awfulness of Newtown on Friday saw the president in tears, declaring: “We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.

“We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” he said.

Although Obama didn’t mention gun control, that is what he was widely assumed to be talking about.

But critics say that the president, for all his sorrowful words after each mass killing, has not only visibly failed to address gun control, he has quietly acquiesced in a slew of national, state and local laws in recent years that have generally made it easier to buy and carry weapons.

Obama’s speech at Newtown prayer vigil

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2012

President Obama pledged to use “whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this” in his speech last night at a prayer vigil in Newtown, CT.

A full transcript of the speech is available.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do, one child even trying to encourage a grownup by saying, “I know karate, so it’s OK; I’ll lead the way out.”

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them.

They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

Remnick to Obama: take action on gun control

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2012

The New Yorker’s editor in chief David Remnick strongly urges President Obama to take decisive action on gun control.

Barack Obama has been in our field of vision for a long time now, and, more than any major politician of recent memory, he hides in plain sight. He is who he is. He may strike the unsympathetic as curiously remote or arrogant or removed; he certainly strikes his admirers as a man of real intelligence and dignity. But he is who he is. He is no phony. And so there is absolutely no reason to believe that his deep, raw emotion today following the horrific slaughter in Connecticut-his tears, the prolonged catch in his voice-was anything but genuine. But this was a slaughter-a slaughter like so many before it-and emotion is hardly all that is needed. What is needed is gun control-strict, comprehensive gun control that places the values of public safety and security before the values of deer hunting and a perverse ahistorical reading of the Second Amendment. Obama told the nation that he reacted to the shootings in Newtown “as a parent,” and that is understandable, but what we need most is for him to act as a President, liberated at last from the constraints of elections and their dirty compromises-a President who dares to change the national debate and the legislative agenda on guns.

Remnick to Obama: focus on climate change

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2012

The New Yorker’s David Remnick urges President Obama to address climate change during his second term in a Kennedy-esque “we choose to go to the Moon” fashion.

Barack Obama can take pride in having fought off a formidable array of deep-pocketed revanchists. As President, however, he is faced with an infinitely larger challenge, one that went unmentioned in the debates but that poses a graver threat than any “fiscal cliff.” Ever since 1988, when NASA’s James Hansen, a leading climate scientist, testified before the Senate, the public has been exposed to the issue of global warming. More recently, the consequences have come into painfully sharp focus. In 2010, the Pentagon declared, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that changes in the global climate are increasing the frequency and the intensity of cyclones, droughts, floods, and other radical weather events, and that the effects may destabilize governments; spark mass migrations, famine, and pandemics; and prompt military conflict in particularly vulnerable areas of the world, including the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. The Pentagon, that bastion of woolly radicals, did what the many denialists in the House of Representatives refuse to do: accept the basic science.

The economic impact of weather events that are almost certainly related to the warming of the earth — the European heat wave of 2003 (which left fifty thousand people dead), the Russian heat waves and forest fires of 2010, the droughts last year in Texas and Oklahoma, and the preelection natural catastrophe known as Sandy — has been immense. The German insurer Munich Re estimates that the cost of weather-related calamities in North America over the past three decades amounts to thirty-four billion dollars a year. Governor Andrew Cuomo, of New York, has said that Sandy will cost his state alone thirty-three billion. Harder to measure is the human toll around the world-the lives and communities disrupted and destroyed.

Is the US becoming an extractive state?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2012

Following up on her piece in the New Yorker on how hedge fund billionaires have become disillusioned with President Obama, Chrystia Freeland says that the 1% are repeating a mistake made many times throughout history of moving from an inclusive economic system to an extractive one.

Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.

Freeland is riffing on an argument forwarded by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in Why Nations Fail. Their chief example cited by Freeland is that of Venice:

In the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages.

Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy.

The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink.

BTW, Acemoglu and Robinson have been going back and forth with Jared Diamond about the latter’s geographical hypothesis for national differences in prosperity forwarded in Guns, Germs, and Steel. I read 36% of Why Nations Fail earlier in the year…I should pick it back up again.

The New Yorker endorses Barack Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2012

Not a surprise really, but the New Yorker’s endorsement of Obama for President is a clear headed assessment of his first term and an effect critique against the “increasingly reactionary and rigid” Republican Party which Romney, to his discredit, has aligned himself with.

Perhaps inevitably, the President has disappointed some of his most ardent supporters. Part of their disappointment is a reflection of the fantastical expectations that attached to him. Some, quite reasonably, are disappointed in his policy failures (on Guantánamo, climate change, and gun control); others question the morality of the persistent use of predator drones. And, of course, 2012 offers nothing like the ecstasy of taking part in a historical advance: the reëlection of the first African-American President does not inspire the same level of communal pride. But the reëlection of a President who has been progressive, competent, rational, decent, and, at times, visionary is a serious matter. The President has achieved a run of ambitious legislative, social, and foreign-policy successes that relieved a large measure of the human suffering and national shame inflicted by the Bush Administration. Obama has renewed the honor of the office he holds.

This paragraph is terrifying:

In pursuit of swing voters, Romney and Ryan have sought to tamp down, and keep vague, the extremism of their economic and social commitments. But their signals to the Republican base and to the Tea Party are easily read: whatever was accomplished under Obama will be reversed or stifled. Bill Clinton has rightly pointed out that most Presidents set about fulfilling their campaign promises. Romney, despite his pose of chiselled equanimity, has pledged to ravage the safety net, oppose progress on marriage equality, ignore all warnings of ecological disaster, dismantle health-care reform, and appoint right-wing judges to the courts. Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices are in their seventies; a Romney Administration may well have a chance to replace two of the more liberal incumbents, and Romney’s adviser in judicial affairs is the embittered far-right judge and legal scholar Robert Bork. The rightward drift of a court led by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito — a drift marked by appalling decisions like Citizens United — would only intensify during a Romney Presidency. The consolidation of a hard-right majority would be a mortal threat to the ability of women to make their own decisions about contraception and pregnancy, the ability of institutions to alleviate the baneful legacies of past oppression and present prejudice, and the ability of American democracy to insulate itself from the corrupt domination of unlimited, anonymous money. Romney has pronounced himself “severely conservative.” There is every reason to believe him.

The endorsements of major newspapers can be tracked here.

Super-rich private equity crybabies vs. Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2012

In this week’s New Yorker, Chrystia Freeland writes about how the ultra-rich have taken a dislike to President Obama and his anti-business policy and rhetoric, even though the President “has served the rich quite well”. This article is infuriating, a bunch of very powerful men (and they are all men) sitting around crying about their powerlessness. A few choice quotes:

Cooperman regarded the comments as a declaration of class warfare, and began to criticize Obama publicly. In September, at a CNBC conference in New York, he compared Hitler’s rise to power with Obama’s ascent to the Presidency, citing disaffected majorities in both countries who elected inexperienced leaders.

Strong argument there. Per Godwin, that should have been the end of it.

Evident throughout the letter is a sense of victimization prevalent among so many of America’s wealthiest people. In an extreme version of this, the rich feel that they have become the new, vilified underclass.

Underclass! Boo hoo! Do you want some cheese with that 2005 Petrus?

T. J. Rodgers, a libertarian and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has taken to comparing Barack Obama’s treatment of the rich to the oppression of ethnic minorities — an approach, he says, that the President, as an African-American, should be particularly sensitive to.

Yes, I can imagine the President nodding, upset at missing the obvious parallel here. The police chasing hedge fund managers through the streets of lower Manhattan with firehoses is a scene that I will never forget.

[Founding partner of the hedge fund AQR Capital Management Clifford S. Asness] suggested that “hedge funds really need a community organizer,” and accused the White House of “bullying” the financial sector.

Clifford S. Asness swinging from the bathroom door knob by his underwear. Clifford S. Asness called “Assness” in trigonometry class. Nude photos taken of Clifford S. Asness in the locker room and distributed to the freshman girls. Clifford S. Asness teased so mercilessly about his acne that he has to stay home from school throwing up from the emotional pain of being so thoroughly and callously rejected by one’s peers.

In 2010, the private-equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, of the Blackstone Group, compared the President’s as yet unsuccessful effort to eliminate some of the preferential tax treatment his sector receives to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

Hitler again! Obama is obviously a fascist communist.

“You know, the largest and greatest country in the free world put a forty-seven-year-old guy that never worked a day in his life and made him in charge of the free world,” Cooperman said. “Not totally different from taking Adolf Hitler in Germany and making him in charge of Germany because people were economically dissatisfied.

Hitler, take three. Stick with what you know.

He was a seventy-two-year-old world-renowned cardiologist; his wife was one of the country’s experts in women’s medicine. Together, they had a net worth of around ten million dollars. “It was shocking how tight he was going to be in retirement,” Cooperman said. “He needed four hundred thousand dollars a year to live on. He had a home in Florida, a home in New Jersey. He had certain habits he wanted to continue to pursue.

Shocking. Needed. Certain habits.

People don’t realize how wealthy people self-tax. If you have a certain cause, an art museum or a symphony, and you want to support it, it would be nice if you had the choice.

We didn’t realize that. And it’s such an either-or thing too…can’t pay your taxes *and* help the Met buy a Vermeer.

Michael Lewis profiles President Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2012

Michael Lewis profiled Barack Obama for the October issue of Vanity Fair. The full version isn’t available online yet (and I have a hunch they’ll keep it that way) is here, but the excerpts might just compell me into a purchase.

At play, the president wears red-white-and-blue Under Armor high-tops, but at work it’s strictly blue or gray suits. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make,” he tells Lewis. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” Lewis says that if he were president he might keep a list in his head. “I do,” Obama adds. “That’s my last piece of advice to you. Keep a list.”

That bit reminds me of this piece on Roger Federer.

I got another sense, however: a sense that he was conserving focus. Fed went through all his subsidiary responsibilities as the President of Tennis (as Steve Tignor calls him) without concentrating on anything, or at least on as few things as possible.

Concentration takes mental energy, as anyone who has fought off five break points before shanking a ball on the sixth knows. And whenever I saw Federer on the grounds, he seemed to be using as little of it as possible. Practicing with Nicolas Kiefer on Ashe a few days before the tournament, he mostly just messed around. He would hit a few familiar Federer shots, the heavy forehand, the penetrating slice, then shank a ball and grin, or yell. Either way, he wasn’t really concentrating all that hard.

And is it possible that Obama has read one of my favorite books about technology, Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet?

Obama points to the 1849 patent model of Samuel Morse’s first telegraph: “This is the start of the Internet right here,” he tells Lewis.

Update: Aha! It looks like Vanity Fair just posted the whole thing online. (via @wistdom)

Obama and Romney talk science

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2012

In partnership with sciencedebate.org, Scientific American asked both major party candidates to answer questions about the important scientific questions of the day. Here are the results.

I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.

Supreme Court upholds Obama’s healthcare act

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2012

I’m surprised and mostly pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Court’s ruling means, that unless Congress acts, in 2014 all Americans will be required to purchase health insurance in the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system since the Great Society. The Court, according to early analysis, redefined the mandate as a tax, skirting some Constitutional questions but offering a dramatic affirmation to Obama’s key initiative.

Update: Josh Marshall speaks for me here.

This is an imperfect law. But what’s most important is that it provides a structure under which the country can make a start not only on universal coverage — as an ethical imperative — but on doing away with the waste and inefficiencies created by the chronic market failure of the US health insurance system. Again, that matters. And I suspect that there’s no going back.

Obama slow jams the news

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2012

This might be the coolest thing a sitting President has ever done. Aside from, maybe, freeing the slaves or The New Deal or winning WWII.

Update: And an amazingly depressing excerpt from a speech Obama gave earlier in the day:

But we only finished paying off our student loans — check this out, all right, I’m the President of the United States — we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago.

Barack Obama and sign language

posted by Aaron Cohen   Mar 21, 2012

Last week after an event at Prince Georges Community College in Maryland, a deaf audience member named Stephon used American Sign Language to tell President Obama, ‘I am proud of you,’ and as you can see in the video, President Obama signed back, ‘Thank you’. Hearing the crowd’s response to this was pretty neat, and imagine what it must have felt like to be the audience member. To be clear, this type of engagement/recognition would be cool from any president.

The moment I will never forget was when he looked at me. He gave me a chance to talk to him. It was like he was waiting for me to say something. I took the moment and signed “I am proud of you,” and his response was “Thank u” in sign language back! Oh my gosh! I was like wow! He understood me after I said I was proud of him. It was so amazing…I was just speechless.

Turn the volume down. Signing is at about :30 seconds.

(Hat tip anildash)

Who is The Wire’s greatest character?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2012

That is the question that Grantland is attempting to answer with a NCAA-style tournament bracket.

The Wire Bracket

Did we mention that our esteemed editor-in-chief hung out with President Obama last week? Because that totally happened. Just two regular guys, discussing Linsanity, Blake Griffin’s jump shot, what it’s like to pitch a baseball while wearing a bulletproof vest, and — as the conversation wound down — The Wire. Asked to name the greatest Wire character of all time (let it never be said that Grantland does not ask the tough questions!), the Commander in Chief didn’t hesitate: “It’s gotta be Omar, right? I mean, that guy is unbelievable, right?”

With respect to the President, Omar is the most overrated character on The Wire. I mean, I love Omar. I do. He is everyone’s favorite character and easy to love because he’s one of the show’s most manufactured characters. Gay, doesn’t swear, strong sense of morals, robs drug dealers, respected/feared by all…come on, all that doesn’t just get rolled up into one person like that. The Wire aspires to be more than just mere television, but when Omar is on the screen, it’s difficult for me to take the show as seriously as it wants me to.

Obama/Clinton 2012

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2011

Writing on his Tumblr blog (!!), former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich makes the case for a Clinton/Biden swap that would lead to an unstoppable Obama/Clinton presidental ticket in 2012.

My political prediction for 2012 (based on absolutely no inside information): Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden swap places. Biden becomes Secretary of State - a position he’s apparently coveted for years. And Hillary Clinton, Vice President.

So the Democratic ticket for 2012 is Obama-Clinton.

Why do I say this? Because Obama needs to stir the passions and enthusiasms of a Democratic base that’s been disillusioned with his cave-ins to regressive Republicans. Hillary Clinton on the ticket can do that.

(via ★djacobs)

We are what we vote (eat)

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 17, 2011

This article on why Americans don’t want to compromise was pretty dumb, but this is an interesting tidbit:

89 percent of the Whole Foods stores in the United States were in counties carried by Barack Obama in 2008, while 62 percent of Cracker Barrel restaurants were in counties carried by John McCain.

For what it’s worth, I was seriously disappointed by the biscuits at Cracker Barrel when I had them the first time.

Obama, the Rolling Stone interview

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2010

Long interview with Barack Obama in Rolling Stone. Most of it is politics, but they also discussed music.

My iPod now has about 2,000 songs, and it is a source of great pleasure to me. I am probably still more heavily weighted toward the music of my childhood than I am the new stuff. There’s still a lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Rolling Stones, a lot of R&B, a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Those are the old standards.

A lot of classical music. I’m not a big opera buff in terms of going to opera, but there are days where Maria Callas is exactly what I need.

Thanks to Reggie [Love, the president’s personal aide], my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I’ve got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert. Malia and Sasha are now getting old enough to where they start hipping me to things. Music is still a great source of joy and occasional solace in the midst of what can be some difficult days.

A day in the life of Barack Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2010

Vanity Fair has a really interesting but depressing look at how The President of the United States spends a typical day navigating the upfuckedness of national American politics and its capital, Washington DC — which Rahm Emanuel calls Fucknutsville.

We think of the presidency as somehow eternal and unchanging, a straight-line progression from 1 to 44, from the first to the latest. And in some respects it is. Except for George Washington, all of the presidents have lived in the White House. They’ve all taken the same oath to uphold the same constitution. But the modern presidency — Barack Obama’s presidency — has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives. The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the “news” by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth — these forces have made today’s Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place. They have shaped and at times hobbled the presidency itself.

For much of the past half-century, the problems that have brought Washington to its current state have been concealed or made tolerable by other circumstances. The discipline of the Cold War kept certain kinds of debate within bounds. America’s artificial “last one standing” postwar economy allowed the country to ignore obvious signs of political and social decay. Wars and other military interventions provided ample distraction from matters of substance at home. Like many changes that are revolutionary, none of Washington’s problems happened overnight. But slow and steady change over many decades — at a rate barely noticeable while it’s happening — produces change that is transformative. In this instance, it’s the kind of evolution that happens inevitably to rich and powerful states, from imperial Rome to Victorian England. The neural network of money, politics, bureaucracy, and values becomes so tautly interconnected that no individual part can be touched or fixed without affecting the whole organism, which reacts defensively. And thus a new president, who was elected with 53 percent of the popular vote, and who began office with 80 percent public-approval ratings and large majorities in both houses of Congress, found himself for much of his first year in office in stalemate, pronounced an incipient failure, until the narrowest possible passage of a health-care bill made him a sudden success in the fickle view of the commentariat, whose opinion curdled again when Obama was unable, with a snap of the fingers or an outburst of anger, to stanch the BP oil spill overnight. And whose opinion spun around once more when he strong-armed BP into putting $20 billion aside to settle claims, and asserted presidential authority by replacing General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus. The commentariat’s opinion will keep spinning with the wind.

(via waxy)

Designing Obama online for free

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2010

Designing Obama, a book chronicling how the visual branding of the Obama campaign came about, is available in several formats, most notably in a completely free online version. Written by the campaign’s design director, the making of the book was funded through the first big Kickstarter campaign.

Obama: Daddy of the United States of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2010

Tom Junod says that the key to understanding how Obama governs is to look at how you’d imagine he might raise Sasha and Malia. Specifically, Junod compares the President’s community organization roots with the parenting technique of positive discipline.

You don’t have to win, we were told at the positive-discipline workshop. Your child is not damaged, morally, if your child wins, if the battle is withdrawn, or, better yet, never joined. Our culture has viewed parenthood in terms of decisive moments, but it’s better to view it in terms of development, as a continual process, and to be in it for the long haul. Nothing lies like the moment of truth, and if there’s no powerlessness, then there are fewer power struggles. If your child has a problem with authority, it’s likely that you have a problem with authority, or your lack of it. The answer is to return it to your child in the form of choices, while you set an example. Your example is your authority. Positive discipline does not mean no discipline; it means that discipline is a matter of teaching mutual respect, rather than making your child suffer. “Children do better when they feel better, not worse,” is what it says on my kitchen cabinet, and so when faced with intransigence, parents have to respond by stating their expectations, repeating the rules, and then giving their children the love and support they need to follow them. Always try to include, rather than isolate; avoid labels; don’t negotiate, but don’t escalate, either. If your children are not doing well, either take them out of the situation or remove yourself. You — and they — can always try again.

It is a philosophy that could have been minted by Cass Sunstein, the White House advisor who is developing ways to “nudge” citizens to make the right choices without them being aware of the manipulation. It could serve as a precis for how Obama has dealt with Joe Wilson, not to mention Skip Gates and Sergeant Jim Crowley, not to mention Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was never threatened but rather told to “think carefully” while answering the protests of the Iranian presidential election with the truncheon and the gallows. One could almost hear Obama saying, “Use your words, Mahmoud. Use your words.”

The piece is interesting throughout, but I particularly liked this observation:

Barack Obama, then, is not the agent of change; he’s the fulfillment of a change that is already occurring culture-wide, in every place but politics. That’s why the Republicans fear him so much; why, while waiting for him to fail, they just come off as the political party for people who want to hit their kids.

Barack Obama’s amazingly consistent smile

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2009

When Obama poses for photos, he smiles in exactly the same way each time.

And I thought Paris was consistent.

Barack Obama, Jedi Knight

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2009

The President recently hosted a rally at The White House in support of Chicago’s bid to hold the 2016 Summer Olympics. Some members of the Olympic fencing team were there. Obama was given a plastic sword. Photos were taken. Photoshop (with an assist from me) did the rest.

Here’s our President attacking an unseen Sith Lord or perhaps someone condemned by a death panel:

Obama Lightsaber 01

And having finished them off to the delight of the assembled, a victory pose.

Obama Lightsaber 02

Update: See also the Japanese Obama action figures. (thx, myles)

Convincing computer generated voices

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2009

CereProc’s computer generated voices are impressive…scroll down the page for a passable Obama and a downright convincing Schwarzenegger. (via ebert)

U.S. Attorney dismissed by Bush to get old job back

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2009

Daniel Bogden, one of the seven US Attorneys dismissed by the Bush Administration in 2006, has been nominated by the Obama Administration to serve in his former capacity in Nevada. (thx, david)