Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Quick Thoughts on “Obama’s Stealth Startup”

A couple of weeks ago, there was a great article in Fast Company about President Obama’s initiative to bring the the technology used in the US bureaucracy into the 21st century. After reading it, there were a few things that came to mind, so I thought I’d write a post with some “Quick Thoughts” as I have in past instances for other events/articles.

1. The first thing that struck me was this idea that Silicon Valley wants to change the world. In particular, the idea that they “think” they are changing the world, but that they actually aren’t. It reminded me of the penultimate episode of Season 1 of “Silicon Valley,” the HBO series. In it, the show parodies Silicon Valley startups who purport to “change the world.” You can see part of it in the beginning of this clip:

In remembering this episode, I wonder if it was like this in previous generations. Obviously, the technology in previous generations was different, especially because companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft weren’t even conceived. In addition, “Silicon Valley” looked very different in the ’40s and ’50s than it did in the ’70s and the ’80s. Nonetheless, I wonder if there were idealistic twentysomethings trying to create things that would revolutionize the way something worked.


2. The second thing that came to mind was this idea that lawyers spend a couple yrs in DC between jobs. When I lived in the DC area, I remember one of the jokes being that DC has more lawyers per capita than any other city in the US and part of that was because of the government. It also reminded me of scene from The West Wing in Season 7 when Josh Lyman (who has a law degree) flies to California to recruit Sam Seaborn (who is a lawyer) to come work with him at the White House.

I think it’s a fantastic idea to recruit folks who are wizards with technology into highly placed government positions to help accelerate the transition for many government agencies. Goodness knows that the VA could use a technology-upgrade. In thinking about this idea, though, it made me wonder if there are other professions that could also do with a “stopover” of sorts in the government, contributing their unique skillsets to advancing the mission of the US government. Lawyers already make the most sense as they’re position to write/interpret laws, but what other professions would be well-suited for short stints in the government?

Scientists probably also make sense. I’m reminded of Patrick Dempsey’s character from Grey’s Anatomy (Derek Shepherd) who was working on a brain initiative. I’d imagine that scientists in other fields could also do well to spend some time in a government agency, but that’s not really outside the norm. Meaning, that’s already a career path that’s identified for scientists. I wonder, are there other professions for which working in DC is not something that’s on the radar.

When Will the United States Next Have a Transformational President on Domestic Policy?

I was catching up on some of the journal articles I’ve accumulated to read over the last year and I one caught my eye: “Transformational and transactional presidents,” by Joseph Nye, Jr. In the article, Nye makes the case that presidents didn’t matter (as much) to the US developing into a great power as we may have previously thought. Furthermore, Nye makes the case that our definitions of the two types of leadership aren’t clear and that the preference for transformational leaders is misplaced.

One of the parts that I enjoyed about this brief article was how Nye identified that presidents can be transformational and transactional at the same time. How? Because there are many different facets to a presidency and so while a president may be transformational in domestic policy, they might not be in foreign policy. Similarly, they can not be transformational in foreign policy early on in their term, but become transformational in response to external events.

Upon finishing the article, I was left wondering if (when?) the United States will again have a transformational president, with regard to domestic policy. Nye didn’t make this case in the article (but maybe he did in his book?), but based on his definition of transformational leaders, with regard to objectives [seeking major change], President Obama was certainly a transformational president. Obamacare is a sweeping change to the way that the US administers healthcare to its people. At the time, President Obama also enjoyed majorities in both the Senate and the House, so this kind of change was more possible (especially more possible than it is now. Can you imagine Pres. Obama trying to pass anything close to Obamacare with the GOP-controlled House and Senate?)

Given Hillary Clinton’s speech this past weekend, I’m inclined to think that she has ideas about domestic policy that would make her a transformational president. However, based on what’s been written about the likelihood of the GOP to continue to hold the majority in the House (redistricting, etc.), it doesn’t seem like there’s likely to be a Democratic-controlled House for the next few election cycles. It’s possible that the Senate flips back to the Democrats in 2016, but they’d need the House to also make a “big change.” So, it seems that, if there’s going to be a transformational president (on domestic policy), it’d have to come from the GOP.

I haven’t been following too closely the candidates from the GOP side, especially with regard to their domestic policy ideas, but is there a transformational president amongst them? There could be, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. If neither party is able to sweep the polls in 2016, we might be waiting for a transformational president on domestic policy in the US until at least the next decade.

ResearchBlogging.orgNye, J. (2013). Transformational and transactional presidents Leadership, 10 (1), 118-124 DOI: 10.1177/1742715013512049

What Will the Obamas Do in 2017?

Today’s been a bit hectic. I rode the bus from downtown Ottawa to get to the airport. The “hectic-ness” stems from the fact that it was quite snowy outside. The visibility was quite poor and I was sure my flight would be delayed (it wasn’t). Right now, I’m sitting in the Toronto Island Airport (not the much more known Toronto Airport, which is actually almost in Mississauga) and waiting for my next flight.

In amongst my travels today, I had the chance to see Pres. Obama’s speech at Nelson Mandela’s memorial. I knew that it was today, but I also knew I wouldn’t have much time to watch it today. As I was getting ready to board the bus in Ottawa, I saw some folks on Twitter talking about this being one of Obama’s best speeches yet. He’s certainly delivered some doozies in his time, so I wondered if the rhetoric was hyperbole. As it turns out — it’s not. I buffered the speech and watched it at 30,000 feet. It was… awesome. And I don’t mean awesome in the way that the word has been co-opted to mean as a form of slang. The speech was awesome.

There were so many great portions of the speech that I’d be hear all day if I were excerpting. One part in particular I wanted to highlight:

The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important.

Essentially, we’re not finished, yet. We’ve still got work to do. (If you want to watch video of the speech, this is all I could find with airport WiFi.)

Update: as expected, there’s a YouTube video of the speech.

Pres. Obama is the 44th President of the United States, so he belongs to a unique club of people. No doubt, history will remember him. However, he’s also one of the youngest presidents in a time in history where people are living longer than ever. As a result, I’m infinitely curious as to what the Obamas will do post-White House. For instance, look at Bill and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton went on to be a United States Senator and then the Secretary of the State (and maybe one day, President). Bill (along with Hillary) created a foundation and have been effecting change the world over.

There are probably an infinite number of things that the Obamas could get into, but I wonder which issue excites them the most. That is, where do they want to leave their mark on history. Given the way that Pres. Obama speaks about equality, social justice, and social rights, it seems like a natural fit for him.

Of course, the Obamas probably aren’t thinking about that right now, but that time is not too far away for them. We’re almost finished with 2013 and the 2014 midterm elections aren’t even a year away. After that, it’s essentially “open season” on candidates announcing their intentions to run for President.

If You Want Something, You’ve Got to Reach Out and Take It

Several months ago when I was still a student at George Mason, I was sitting in one of the coffeehouses on campus. Well, actually, it was the Starbucks. I differentiate Starbucks from coffeehouses because I know that some folks don’t necessarily see Starbucks as a coffeehouse anymore. Nonetheless, I was sitting in Starbucks, probably writing a post. In fact, I think it may have even been a Monday and I was working on a post for the list of biases in judgment and decision-making. Anyway, not entirely relevant.

As I was sitting there, I noticed a stranger ask a table of two if he could use one of their computers to charge his phone (they didn’t have their computers out). Invariably, I knew he was going to make his way to me and ask if he could use my laptop to charge his phone (he happened to have his USB charger, but not a charger that plugged into the wall). When both of the girls declined and he turned to me to ask if I’d be okay with it, thoughts of espionage raced through my mind. I think this was about the time that I had just spend a weekend watching a number of episodes from Alias, so “spy-stuff” was on my mind. Eventually, I caved and let him use my laptop to charge his phone.

As his phone was charging and he was waiting for his ride to arrive, we chatted briefly. I don’t remember how we got onto the subject of politics, but we did. He told me that he’d written a couple of books of poetry and sent them to the White House — to President Barack Obama. He also had written one to former President Clinton. I was quite shocked that he had been so bold as to send books of poetry to the 44th and the 42nd presidents of the United States. In fact, he even gave me a signed copy of the one he sent to Pres. Obama. More than that, he received responses from both of the presidents. In an updated edition of the book he sent to Pres. Obama, he had a picture of the letter he received from Pres. Obama.

Shortly after this, our conversation ended as his ride arrived. When he left, I got to thinking about the gusto it might have taken to drum up the courage to write a book of poetry and send it off to the President of the United States. Many of us may balk in anxiety at the kind of response we might get (if we even get a response!). Paralyzed by fear, we fail to reach for our dreams. If you want something, you’ve got to reach out and take it. This is exactly what this gentleman was doing. He wanted to write something for the President and he did — and he sent it to him!

I bet there’s something in your life that you’ve been putting on hold. Something that you’ve thought, ‘Oh well, I’ll do that later,’ or ‘I’ll wait to do that until I’m ready.’ I contend that TODAY is that day. Today, you are ready to do the thing you’ve been waiting to do. Don’t wait for your future. Reach out and seize it – today!

The Audacity of Hope: Obama’s Impromptu Speech About Trayvon Martin and Race

This afternoon, President Obama surprised everyone by making an appearance in the White House press briefing room. He spoke for approximately 17 minutes about Trayvon Martin, race, the law, and some other things. Part of the specialness of this speech was that it was impromptu (at least it appeared that it was unplanned) and was unscripted. [I couldn’t embed the video, but you can see it here.]

There were a lot of key things that he addressed in his speech, but what I thought to be the most important was the last few minutes. In the last few minutes, President Obama said that the younger generations are doing it much better than previous generations. The implication here is that the younger generations are less racist (or less unapproving) than previous generations. He talked about how he would listen to Malia and Sasha (his kids) speak with their friends and hear how they interacted. As a result, he thinks that the younger generations are doing it better than the older generations.

As I heard him say that, it made me think about how our countries are governed. Right now, the people who run the country (and by extension, the world) are older. I wonder what it’d be like if we had younger people who ruled the world. Maybe younger people would “get us there faster.” As a way to temper the eagerness of young people, maybe it’d be important to have some people from older generations to be advisors.

I wonder… are there any countries, states, provinces, counties, cities, or towns that are run by “younger” people? Are they more successful? Could we map this onto bigger populations with the same success?


For the first 14+ minutes, it seemed like there was an almost sombre tone to President Obama’s remarks. However, as he shifted to talking about the younger generations, I got the sense that he had hope for the future. I got the sense that he had hope for the future of the country because of the progress he sees in younger generations. While nothing is certain about the future nor are the implications, I’d like to think that it’s rather poetic that the leader of the United States believes in a brighter tomorrow. That President Obama believes that we are getting better as a society. As a people. That we are beginning to treat each other with more respect. More love. More kindness. And the hope is that this will continue with each succeeding generation. Hope.

Cutting Salary to Show Solidarity: This Isn’t Empathy

A couple of days ago, there was news indicating that President Obama was going to return 5% of his salary, which amounts to about $17,000, as a sign of solidarity with those federal workers who’ve been furloughed. In case you’re not familiar with this situation, I’ll explain a little first.

In 2011, there was the debt-ceiling debacle. One of the things that came of that was the sequester. The sequester was supposed to be such drastic cuts to the federal budget meant as an incentive to make some sort of deal before the deadline. It wasn’t ever meant to happen, (at least that’s what politicians said publicly), and the date set for the deadline to make a deal (and begin the implementation of the sequester if there weren’t a deal) was January 2, 2013. As part of the New Year’s Eve tax deal, Congress pushed the start of the sequester to March 1, 2013, which is when it began.

As the sequester has a great deal of spending cuts, this has greatly affected some of the workers in the federal government. For instance, some workers have had to take furloughs — temporary unpaid leave. Companies (or the government) don’t usually use this unless there’s a need because of the budget situation. As an aside: on Chris Hayes’ new show (All In with Chris Hayes), he went into detail with one particular worker who has had to take furloughs and had a brief panel discussion about it. That brings us back to President Obama.

A couple of days ago, President Obama stated that he was going to return a portion of his salary to show solidarity with those workers who are having to take these temporary unpaid leaves. The President may have started it, but he’s certainly not finishing it. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano are all showing similar signs of solidarity. So is freshman Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth. But this is not limited to Democrats. Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Mike Lee have both indicated that they will return some of their salary. I think all of this is well and good, but the one thing that irked me was how Lindsey Graham wrote about his decision on Twitter. (I should note, I don’t know if any of the other politicians have said made similar claims, as I just saw someone retweet Lindsey Graham’s commentary.)

After I saw this tweet, I went on a bit of a rant on Twitter that I’ll include below:


Let’s first start with the issue of empathy. People often confuse empathy and sympathy. I’ve written about empathy before:

Empathy is at the heart of the beginning of the solution to many of the world’s problems. When we empathize, we are able to recognize the emotions that another is feeling. At the root of compassion is empathy. [Note: sympathy is quite different from empathy. Sympathy is simply a concern for another’s well-being, where empathy usually refers to one sharing the same emotional state.]

I should note that the “note” in that quote actually comes from the post. So, now that we know what empathy means, let’s return to Senator Graham’s comment. He said he was cutting 20% of his pay to empathize with those furloughed. In order for Senator Graham’s actions to demonstrate empathy, it’d actually have to affect his life in the way that those furloughed are affected. For an example of this, scroll up in this post and watch the video I linked to with Chris Hayes talking to someone who is being furloughed. Senator Graham’s current salary for FY2013 is $174,000. If we take 20% away, that leaves him with about $140,000. Something else that’s important to this conversation is Graham’s net worth, which is now pegged at $1.5 million. I understand that politicians have to keep up two offices (one in DC and one in their district/state), but does anyone think that Senator Graham’s going to have as hard a go as thing with a $140K salary as the military serviceman who had to get a second job delivering pizzas?

This is not empathy.


As an addendum to this conversation, I wanted to include data about the current Congress’s net worth, but there doesn’t seem to be a list out there. However, I was able to find a list for all members of Congress in 2010. Some things of note: of 100 Senators, only 7 had a net worth of less than $100,000 and 24 had a net worth of more than $10,000,000. Of the 435 member of Congress, 81 had a net worth of less than $100,000 and 42 had a net worth of more than $10,000,000.

Quick Thoughts on the “60 Minutes” Interview with President Obama and Secretary Clinton

Earlier this evening, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton sat down with 60 Minutes to do an interview. Apparently, it was at the request of President Obama. During and after the interview’s airing on CBS, I offered some of my thoughts on Twitter. I’ve embedded those tweets below. I’ve also included the two tweets that I RT’d. In short, I think the last 3 tweets are really important. This interview certainly wipes the slate clean for 2016.

Note: In one of the above tweets, I referenced a post I wrote about deference. You can find it here.