Obama’s America, By Barack Obama and 60 Other Players

All presidencies are historic. But no president since at least LBJ, and probably FDR, has arrived in Washington at a moment of greater historic urgency than Barack Obama. The man who took that oath of office seemed cut from American folklore — a neophyte politician elected senator only four years before, a prodigious and preacherly orator from the “Land of Lincoln” and the South Side of Chicago of the Great Migration. An embodiment not just of the American Dream as it had been imagined by the Greatest Generation of his own maternal grandparents but of a new version, too, one that might be embraced by his daughters — global, utopian-ish, post-boomer, “post-racial.”

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.

In this issue, we’ve tried to create an inventory of those years and to think a bit about how they might look from the distance of history. (That is, how will millennials remember the era in which they were so casually mocked, even as they remade the world with social media and an easy openness about gender?) Thankfully, we’ve had some help in putting together our time capsule, including from the president, who sat down in August with Jonathan Chait to discuss some critical moments of his tenure.

History depends on who gets to tell the story, of course, and while we took care in our choice of storytellers, the perspectives here are by no means complete (or unskewed). The timeline, too — essentially a litany of events, some major and others telling but trivial — is painfully selective (to us, and probably you). And it only goes so far — to the present, that is, when the president, like the rest of us, watches uneasily over the final weeks of a very unsettling campaign that even he describes as a referendum on his presidency and the profound cultural changes that came with it.

Photo: Dan Winters

[Full Transcript: Barack Obama on 5 Days That Shaped His Presidency]

Year 1

2009

Unemployment7.8%
Dow Jones9,034.69
GDP$14.42 TR.
Troops in Afghanistan38,350
Troops in Iraq141,300
Jan. 8

Before Barack Obama even gets started, the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the country has lost 2 million jobs in the past four months alone.

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Jan. 9

The president-elect says that his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, will live in the White House.

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Jan. 10

With plans for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a.k.a. the stimulus bill, in full swing, Obama releases a report declaring the goal is to “save or create at least 3 million jobs by the end of 2010.”

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Jan. 15

Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger successfully ditches an Airbus A320 in the Hudson River. He may be the last bipartisan national hero you’ll see here.

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Jan. 16

The federal government finalizes a deal to stabilize Citi. By Inauguration Day, the country’s top-four banks have lost half their value.

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Jan. 20

President Obama is inaugurated. Over a million people come to Washington to watch America swear in its first African-American president­ — and talk about Aretha Franklin’s hat.

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Photo: Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images
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Jan. 22

The new president signs an executive order to close the Guantánamo detention camp within a year. To this day, Gitmo is still open, if less populated; of the roughly 775 prisoners originally held there, 61 remain.

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Jan. 27

John Boehner urges his caucus to reject Obama’s stimulus bill unanimously. One week in, it’s clear that Republicans will try to pretend the president does not exist.

Barack Obama:

A Republican Strategy As Ingenious As It Is Perverse

The president, interviewed by Jonathan Chait.Read

“When I came into office, my working assumption was that because we were in crisis, and the crisis had begun on the Republicans’ watch, that there would be a window in which they would feel obliged to cooperate on a common effort to dig us out of this massive hole. The moment in which I realized that Republican leadership intended to take a different tack was actually as we were shaping the stimulus bill, and I vividly remember having prepared a basic proposal that had a variety of components: tax cuts, funding for the states so that teachers and firefighters wouldn’t be laid off, an infrastructure component, and so forth. We felt that as an opening proposal it was ambitious but needed, and that we would begin negotiations with the Republicans and they would show us things that they thought also needed to happen.

On the drive up to Capitol Hill to meet with the House Republican Caucus, John Boehner released a press statement saying that they were opposed to the stimulus. At that point we didn’t even actually have a stimulus bill drawn up, and we hadn’t meant to talk about it. It was a calculation based on what turned out to be pretty smart politics but really bad for the country: If they cooperated with me, then that would validate our efforts. If they were able to maintain uniform opposition to whatever I proposed, that would send a signal to the public of gridlock and dysfunction, and that would help them win seats in the midterm. They pursued that strategy with great discipline.

Typically, what would happen, certainly at the outset, would be that I would say, ‘We got a big problem, we’re losing 800,000 jobs a month. Every economist I’ve talked to—including Republican economists — thinks that we need to do a big stimulus, and I’m willing to work with you to figure out how this package looks.’ And typically, what you’d get would be, ‘Well, Mr. President, I’m not sure that this big-spending approach is the right one, and families are tightening their belts right now, and I don’t hear a lot of my constituents saying that they want a bunch of big bureaucracies taking their hard-earned tax money and wasting it on a bunch of make-work projects around the country. So we think that government’s got to do that same thing that families do.’ So, you kind of hit that ideological wall. I’m sure that after about four or five of those sessions, at some point, I might have said, ‘Look, guys, we have a history here dating back to the Great Depression,’ and I might at that point have tried to introduce some strong policy arguments. What I can say unequivocally is that there has never been a time in which I did not say, ‘Look, you tell me how you want to do this. Give me a sense of how you want to approach it.’

I think if you talk to somebody like a John Boehner, he’ll acknowledge that I’m pretty good at maintaining both my calm and my good humor in these meetings. I get along well with John, and Mitch [McConnell] is a little bit more close to the vest. It’s convenient for them to present those personal interactions as the basis for why things don’t happen, but the problem hasn’t been personal interactions. The conversations I have privately with Republicans are always very different than the public presentations that are made of them.

Even when their leadership wanted to cooperate, the tenor of the Republican base had shifted in a way that made it very difficult for them to cooperate without paying a price internally. Probably the best signifier of that was when Chicago had the bid for the 2016 Olympics and a committee had flown to Copenhagen to make their presentation. On the flight back, we already know that we haven’t gotten it, and when I land it turns out that there was big cheering by Rush Limbaugh and various Republican factions that America had lost.

It was really strange. But at that point, Limbaugh had been much clearer about wanting to see me fail, and he had, I think, communicated that very clearly to his listeners. Fox News coverage had already started to drift in that direction. By then, you realized that the attitudes that Sarah Palin had captured during the election were increasingly representative of the Republican-activist base. They may not have been representative of Republicans across the country, but John Boehner and Mitch McConnell had to worry about that mood. It’s pretty hard for them to publicly say, ‘Obama’s a perfectly reasonable guy, but we just can’t work with him because our base thinks he’s the Antichrist.’ It’s a lot easier for them to say, ‘Oh, the guy’s not listening to us,’ or ‘He’s uncompromising.’

As a consequence, there were times that I would meet with Mitch McConnell and he would say to me very bluntly, ‘Look, I’m doing you a favor if I do any deal with you, so it should be entirely on my terms because it hurts me just being seen photographed with you.’ Other times I’d tease them about it and say, ‘Look, if you need some help — me attacking you, or, you know …’ During the health-care debate, there was a point in time where, after having had multiple negotiations with [Iowa senator Chuck] Grassley, who was the ranking member alongside my current Chinese ambassador, [Max] Baucus, in exasperation I finally just said to Grassley, ‘Is there any form of health-care reform that you can support?’ And he shrugged and looked a little sheepish and said, ‘Probably not.’

I see a straight line from the announcement of Sarah Palin as the 2008 vice-presidential nominee to what we see today in Donald Trump. There have been times when I’ve said confidently that the fever is going to have to break, but it just seems to get worse. And so, for Democrats, it’s important to understand that whether we are able to achieve certain policy objectives is going to be primarily dependent on how many votes we’ve got in each chamber and our ability to move public opinion. It is not going to be as dependent on classic deal-making between Democrats and Republicans, or on my or subsequent presidents’ playing enough golf or drinking enough Scotch with members.

I have very cordial relations with a lot of the Republican members. We can have really great conversations and arrive at a meeting of the minds on a range of policy issues. But if they think they’re going to lose seats — or their own seat — because the social media has declared that they sold out the Republican Party, then they won’t do it. For the individual member of Congress in a 60 percent Republican district in Oklahoma or Arkansas, what matters is that all his or her constituencies are watching Fox News and listening to Rush, and they’re going to pay a price if they’re seen as being too cozy with a Democratic president.”

[Full Transcript: Barack Obama on 5 Days That Shaped His Presidency]
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jan. 29

Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, his first piece of legislation, which removes the statute of limitations on pay-discrimination cases. The pay gap, however, proves intransigent, narrowing by only three cents — from about 77 to 80 cents to the dollar — over the next eight years.

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jan. 30

David After Dentist goes viral, making an anesthetized 7-year-old a sensation on a 4-year-old company called YouTube.

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feb. 17

Obama signs the $787 billion stimulus bill into law despite Republican opposition not just staving off a depression (in part thanks to the most significant tax cuts since Reagan), but also making massive investments in high-speed rail, broadband, research, and infrastructure generally (the biggest investment since Eisenhower), not to mention education (more than $4 billion for Race to the Top), and also completely reinvigorating the green-energy business, which was otherwise in danger of dying for good.

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• $212 billion in tax cuts
• 1.6 million jobs a year saved or created for four years
• 24 million workers received unemployment insurance
• 15,000 transportation projects
• 3,000 water-quality projects
• 110,000 miles of broadband
• 42,000 miles of road repaired
• $400 million on new energy technologies
• 145 percent increase in wind-electricity generation

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FORECLOSED: At the beginning of 2009, 861,664 houses were already surrendered to banks. Photo: TJ Proechel
feb. 17

Obama announces a surge in Afghanistan: An additional 17,000 troops will be deployed to deal with increased violence on the ground, boosting the force by nearly 50 percent.

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feb. 27

Then he promises an end to the war in Iraq: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.”

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mar. 2

Jimmy Fallon begins his reign as the new prince of late night. “Fun” trumps “funny.”

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Mar. 8

Middle-aged meth-maker Walter White estimates he needs to make “11 more drug deals” to provide for his family. Breaking Bad, season two, premieres.

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A Health-Care Fever Dream

adam sternberghRead

Breaking Bad begins with a crisis of health: a man is diagnosed with lung cancer. Now, in many countries in the Western world, this story would play out simply: He’d go to the doctor, receive treatment, and, ideally, recover, without ever worrying seriously about his medical bills. There would be little incentive for him to, say, try his hand at becoming a meth tycoon. But Breaking Bad takes place in America, so Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, panics. What little money he has will be swallowed up by treatment, leaving nothing for his family after he’s gone. He’s a frustrated middle-aged man whose potential was long ago thwarted and who spent his whole life coloring within the lines. And this is his reward: a sad, painful end and a bankrupt legacy. When that’s what “good” looks like, no wonder he breaks bad.

It’s too simplistic to suggest the show would have played out differently if it were set in a post-­Obamacare world. But it’s not a stretch to point out that the show was, in part, a kind of pre-­Obamacare fever dream. It was born of a peculiar moment in American history when serious illness was too often closely followed by personal financial ruin. As the series unfolded, Walt’s cancer went into remission—both medically and narratively — and the show focused instead on a different insidious tumor, the one growing on his soul. Eventually, that is the one that claimed him, even as the physical cancer resurfaced to finish the job. Over his short but iconic TV lifetime (the show ran on AMC from 2008 to 2013), Walter White became a symbol of issues much larger than a dysfunctional health-care system: He came to embody the sublimated rage of white, middle-aged, formerly middle-­class America, mourning its lost influence, stranded in the exurbs, awash in narcotics, stuck on a death bender, and marooned at the receding edge of the American Dream. If Walter White were alive today, he likely wouldn’t have to worry so much about cancer. But there’s a pretty good chance he’d be seduced by a promise to Make America Great Again.

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Mar. 9

Stocks plunge to 12-year lows, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping below 6,600.

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Mar. 9

Obama reverses President Bush’s ban on federal spending on stem-cell research. Science is back.

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mar. 14

AIG doles out bonuses almost equal to the amount of its federal bailout. The American people reach for their pitchforks.

Neil Barofsky

The Original Sin of the Wall Street Bailout

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Neil Barofsky Former special inspector general overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) for the Treasury Department

“Nobody really knows why people didn’t go to jail. If you ask the Department of Justice, they might say, ‘We can’t charge people when we don’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt.’ The fact is, the longer you take to investigate something, the more difficult it becomes. January of 2009 is when you really needed to have started those investigations. But if you think back to what was going on at that time, you can see why they think it would have been insane to do so. We had just put hundreds of billions of dollars into the banks to keep them from failing! If it got out that the Department of Justice was now investigating those institutions, it could have been completely destabilizing, and you would have just undermined the entire bailout. That doesn’t mean Eric Holder was in a room saying, ‘We can’t investigate these banks because they will collapse.’ But they didn’t form a resourced task force or take other steps to immediately investigate on a large scale. The bankers really were ‘too big to jail.’The bad behavior just seems baked into the culture of these institutions. Partly this might be because they think they got away with it. Other than paying settlements, they really didn’t suffer any consequences. That’s like if you committed a crime and pleaded guilty but still got to vote and keep your job and be part of society. We now have a banking system full of convicted felons.

In the end, what was TARP supposed to do? Restore lending and help homeowners. It didn’t do either because they were so worried about the banks. They didn’t check to see what the banks were doing with the money. I remember senior Treasury officials yelling at me about this. They said that if we were to ask the banks what they did with the money, then we would risk destroying the banking system. And later, when Elizabeth Warren asked [Treasury Secretary] Tim Geithner about how the Home Affordable Modification Program was going to help homeowners, he responded by saying the real purpose was to ‘foam the runway’ for the banks.

Do I blame Obama? I think it’s really on Geithner. I think it was born of a belief handed down from the titans of Wall Street: At the end of the day, the crisis was caused by a bunch of greedy homeowners, and they should hand the money over to the banks and it would all work out. And it did work out, for the banks.”

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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mar. 18

Airbnb, a company that started with two San Francisco roommates renting air mattresses on their floor, is so popular with investors that it gets funded even before its Y Combinator class’s “Demo Day.”

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apr. 9

Parks and Recreation begins its seven-year celebration of government officials trying to do good despite a populace that doesn’t care.

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apr. 30

Chrysler files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; GM will follow suit one month later.

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may 9

“In the next hundred days, our bipartisan outreach will be so successful that even John Boehner will consider becoming a Democrat. After all, we have a lot in common. He is a person of color. Although not a color that appears in the natural world. What’s up, John?” —Barack Obama, White House Correspondents’ Dinner

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may 19

Glee, a little show about a high-school singing club, premieres.

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Gayboy Kurt, Everyteen

mark harrisRead

Nothing ages more quickly or brutally than a piece of entertainment that was revolutionary for its moment. So it’s easy to look back at the debut of Glee and wonder what the big deal was. After all, it certainly wasn’t the first TV show to depict gay characters. But Glee was the first to put a gay kid front and center and to eschew patronizing “Look, he’s just like us!” cultural tourism. The tart-tongued Kurt Hummel, played by actor Chris Colfer (who astonishingly for TV was actually a teenager), was femme, high-voiced, fashion-obsessed, lonely, special. He wasn’t tokenistic or neutered—Kurt got to have a coming-out, a boyfriend, a sex life. He didn’t have to be “just like us”; he only had to be himself.

At its apex, the series was not on the fringes of pop culture but at its center, airing after the Super Bowl and turning Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” into a same-sex I-think-you’re-hot song that reached Billboard’s top ten. At least as significantly, Glee forced its largely non-gay, non-kid audience to confront the existence and the struggles of queer children in a sustained way. In that, the show accomplished something television can do better than almost any other medium—it normalized a conversation. The year after the show’s premiere, Dan Savage launched his deeply affecting and deeply effective “It Gets Better” video project. Savage understood that if one role of entertainment is to kick down a barrier, the job of activism is to make sure it never gets rebuilt.

Now a generation of queer kids who saw themselves in Glee (not to mention a generation of queer kids who didn’t) is in college arguing about gender fluidity and intersectionality. And in ten years, some of them will run for local, state, and national office. For a show that began with a bunch of high-schoolers singing “Don’t Stop Believin’,” that’s not a bad legacy.

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THIS IS 17: Mars and Molly, a couple in Brooklyn. Photo: Laurel Golio
may 26

Obama nominates Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, replacing the retiring justice David Souter.

Longer view

And Then There Were Three

stacy schiffRead

The first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court did so in 1880. It would take another 101 years for a woman to sit on that bench rather than stand before it. Even then, progress was fitful. Over the 12 years that Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg served together, their identities evidently merged; lawyers regularly addressed Ginsburg as “Justice O’Connor.” (The real Justice O’Connor corrected them.) When O’Connor retired in 2006, she left the faux Justice O’Connor feeling lonely. Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned of something far more alarming: What the public saw on entering the court were “eight men of a certain size, and then this little woman sitting to the side.” They might well represent the most eminent legal minds in America. But there was something antiquated, practically mutton-choppy, about that portrait.

Then President Obama proposed, for the first time in history, that a Latina help interpret the legal cases that flummoxed everyone else. To the press corps that morning he introduced a self-described “kid from the South Bronx,” a die-hard Yankees fan and a distinguished federal trial judge who as a scholarship student at Princeton had been too intimidated to speak in class. Like Obama’s, Sonia Sotomayor’s story is of the only-in-America variety. Also like Obama, she was raised by a single mother. Standing where a justice’s proud spouse normally stands, Celina Sotomayor held the Bible on which the newest Supreme Court justice months later would place her left hand. If you can watch the two Sotomayors embrace with dry eyes, you are doing better than nearly everyone else in that room.

Obama explained that he had been in the market for empathy, a word that to some ears sounded, will always sound, dangerously like activism. He wanted a jurist with “a common touch and a sense of compassion, an understanding of how the world works and how people live.” Already he had described his idea of a great justice: someone who would protect the outsider, the minority, the voiceless and vulnerable. That would be, on one occasion or another, 50.8 percent of America. The jury remains out on whether there is such a creature as female jurisprudence; surely justice should be no more gendered than a shapeless black gown. It has, however, been argued that women tend to reason more holistically and with an increased tolerance for gray. Whether or not they introduce more compromise into the courtroom, they necessarily introduce a different perspective. Here is a disorienting thought: What if someone who has actually had an abortion were called on to rule on the legality of one?

How many female justices would be sufficient? Nine, says Justice Ginsburg, noting that no one ever raised an eyebrow at the idea of nine men.

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jun. 17

The Obama administration unveils its plan for regulating Wall Street, which is then introduced in Congress by Senator Chris Dodd and Representative Barney Frank.

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jun. 25

Michael Jackson dies, and Twitter mourns.

Vulture Chat

MJ=JC?

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Lane Brown: Michael Jackson’s death was a big deal for lots of obvious reasons, including the surprising way it happened and the fact that he was arguably the most famous person on the planet.

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Nate Jones: He was an A-lister with an indisputable body of work; he was 50 years old, his hits were the right age — old enough that every generation knew them, but not too old that they weren’t relevant anymore.

LB: But it was also the first huge celebrity death to happen in the age of social media, or at least the age of Twitter.

NJ: MJ’s death came alongside the protests in Iran, which was when Twitter went mainstream.

LB: It also meant that so much of the instant reaction (once we’d digested the shock of it) was to make it all about us.

Frank Guan: In a lot of ways, the culture prefers the death of artists to their continuing to live. Once an artist gets launched into the stratosphere, there’s no way to come down, and that permanence becomes monotonous. They run out of timely or groundbreaking material and the audience starts tuning out. At some point, their fame eclipses their art, and then the only way to get the general audience to appreciate them anew is for them to die.

LB: People seem to like the grieving process so much that even lesser celebrities get the same treatment.

FG: Maybe celebrity deaths have become the one occasion where it’s socially permissible to publicly mourn for yourself, albeit vicariously. In a secular society, we want to guarantee that at least someone will have an afterlife. Outside of church, there aren’t that many forums in this culture available for people to engage seriously and directly with death. Also, death is a one-time-only thing. As far as celebrity stuff goes, and let’s be honest, it only goes so far, it’s the ultimate exclusive.

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jul. 10

The government acquires a 61 percent stake in GM and loans the company $50 billion. The auto bailout will eventually be heralded as a great success, adding more than 250,000 manufacturing jobs to the economy.

Steve Rattner

The Auto Industry Gets Rerouted

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“The president was very clear with us that he only wanted to do stuff that would fundamentally change the way they did business. And that’s what we did. There were enormous changes. For example, General Motors had something like 300 different job classifications that the union had. If you were assigned to put the windshield wipers on, you couldn’t put tires on. And we wiped all that stuff out. We basically gave back management the freedom to manage, to hire, to fire. People stopped getting paid even when they were on layoff. We reduced the number of car plants so that there wasn’t so much overcapacity. So now, when you have 16 million cars sold [a year for the entire auto industry], they’re making a fortune.”

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jul. 16

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is arrested for breaking into his own home by Cambridge police officer James Crowley. Obama invites Gates and Crowley to the White House for a beer.

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Aug. 5

Drones finally kill their most-targeted man, after as many as seven failed strikes.

numbers

Those Killing Machines

Drones are deceptive. They promise precision, but this promise is false, as the cartoonish failure to kill Baitullah Mehsud shows. Mehsud was the son of a potato farmer in Pakistan’s mountainous no-man’s-land who segued in the early aughts from working as a fitness instructor to organizing guerrilla campaigns against the Pakistani government as head of the Pakistani Taliban. When the CIA dispatched its drones for a manhunt, it took at least seven drone strikes to kill him. More than 160 others, including 11 children, lost their lives along the way.Read

1st Strike:June 14, 2008An American drone blasted a house in Mehsud’s hometown with three guided missiles; it was thought to be his hideout. After the dust settled, locals pulled an anonymous man’s body from the wreckage. The Pakistani government report later said he was a civilian.

2nd Strike:Feb. 14, 2009The campaign accelerated after Obama took office. In February, drones descended in another village near Mehsud’s hometown, dropping missiles on three compounds and also hitting an Islamic school. The dead numbered around 30. Some were apparently Taliban members, but none were major leaders. And none were Mehsud.

3rd Strike:May 12, 2009Early in the spring, the U.S. authorized a $5 million bounty on Mehsud’s head and continued to escalate the strikes. In May, three missiles hit a house in the village of Drey Nishter, where Mehsud’s men had reportedly sometimes trained. Roughly nine people were killed and another four wounded. Their identities were never announced, though a Pakistani official said some of the dead had belonged to the Taliban.

4th and 5th Strikes:Jun. 23, 2009In June, the CIA decided on a stratagem: using one of Mehsud’s midlevel commanders, Khwaz Wali Mehsud, as bait. Agents used a drone to pinpoint the mud-and-brick ­building where the commander was ­staying, and before dawn on June 23, they dropped two missiles on it. The commander died, along with at least four other inhabitants. As villagers recovered the bodies, CIA personnel dispatched their drones to the nearest town, anticipating that the funeral would be held the same afternoon. Hours later, officials in Virginia watched on TV screens as mourners chanted around the burial site and the missiles began to fall, three altogether. In the end, dozens of bystanders were killed, perhaps as many as 86 — but not Mehsud. (It’s unclear whether he was ever there at all.)

6th Strike:Jul. 7, 2009Two weeks later, drones showed up in the same village again, hitting another militant base and ­killing at least 14.

7th Strike:Aug. 5, 2009A drone caught an image of Mehsud on the roof of his father-in-law’s house. By one account, he was receiving an IV drip for his diabetes; by another, a woman was massaging his legs. CIA personnel, watching the video in real time, ordered a strike, and two Hellfire missiles from a Predator incinerated the house. In the aftermath, Mehsud’s torso was found. His wife, father-in-law and mother-in-law, a lieutenant, and seven bodyguards were also killed in the blast.

The Drone FamilyThe Department of Defense classifies its drones in five tiers:

Illustrations by Jason Lee

1. The hand-launched Raven surveillance drone, which flies at 500 feet at 50 mph. 2. The ScanEagle, also for surveillance, flies higher, at up to 19,500 feet, at 90 mph. 3. The RQ-7B Shadow, which operates at 18,000 feet at 135 mph. 4. The armed MQ-1 Predator, which can travel to about 25,000 feet and fly at 135 mph. 5. The armed MQ-9 Reaper, which flies at 30,000 feet at 200 mph.

Remote-Control Killing: A Brief HistoryThe U.S. Air Force established a “Pilotless Aircraft Branch” after World War II, and by Vietnam, we were ­using surveillance drones in full force. Six days after 9/11, Bush authorized the CIA to hunt down terrorists, which eventually led to a “kill list”; by February 2002, the CIA was going after targets with armed drones. The program escalated dramatically at the end of 2008 as part of the CIA’s campaign in Pakistan, which means that this new era was almost perfectly coincident with the new administration. In fact, within four days of Obama’s inauguration, CIA drone strikes had killed at least 14 civilians —I including a Pakistani peace negotiator and four of his family members. The CIA had recently initiated its practice of “signature strikes,” which sounds precise but is really a way to target people based on their behavior without bothering to identify them. In 2011, after drones erroneously hit a tribal council and a friendly military installation in Pakistan and killed American citizens in Yemen, Obama ordered the CIA to reassess the program, and in May 2013 he announced a new policy: “Before any strike is taken, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” But, practically, nothing changed. And by 2014, most strikes were on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, where journalists have less access, and so there is still a lot we just don’t know.

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sep. 9

Representative Joe Wilson gives a shout-out to Obama during a joint session of Congress: “You lie!”

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Sep. 10

An upstart conservative website founded by Andrew Breitbart publishes undercover videos recorded inside the nonprofit ACORN in which conservative activists appear to ask for — and receive — advice on the sex trade. ACORN eventually shuts down; fringe right-wing muckraking is just getting started.

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sep. 13

Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, saying, “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!” Obama declares West “a jackass.”

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sep. 16

Facebook, a five-year-old social network, turns a profit for the first time and hits 300 million users.

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Sep. 17

The Affordable Care Act, which will become known as Obamacare, is introduced in the House of Representatives. First counterstrike: Members of Congress start working on an amendment that would preclude using Obamacare for abortions.

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Photo: Pete Souza/Courtesy of The White House
oct. 8

Obama plays basketball, among other things.

Just Another Day Around the Globe

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A Taliban attack in Kabul kills 17 people and injures 83; Cuban officials complain the U.S. embargo costs their country $149 million annually; the House votes to expand the definition of hate crimes to include acts related to victims’ sexual orientation; the Senate Judiciary Committee votes to extend key provisions of the Patriot Act, including the “roving wiretap” clause; police in Washington State look for an 18-year-old plane thief dubbed the Barefoot Burglar (he won’t be caught for another nine months); Typhoon Melor makes landfall in Japan; a new study finds one in ten male high-school dropouts are incarcerated; gold hits a new high of $1,055 an ounce; and the president takes a break to shoot hoops on the White House tennis courts (which he has converted so that he can play a full-court game of basketball). The next morning, he will learn he has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

[See the Gallery: 36 Behind-the-Scenes Moments From the Obama Presidency]
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nov. 6

Unemployment hits 10 percent, the highest point of the recession — though, for some, the recovery will never come.

living it

Jeannie, 48, Paralegal: A Chronicle of Chronic Underemployment

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“Right before the 2008 recession, I was working at an asset-­management company in Kansas City. The economy wasn’t looking good, but I wasn’t actually laid off: I had to go to Tulsa and care for my stepfather, who had stage-four lymphoma. It was very challenging to find a job around that time, so since then I’ve been working at contract positions. Working as a temp is hard: You’ve got to start over each time. I’m single, never been married, so I have to support myself. Of course, I want to work, but it’s very hard when you don’t have a cushion. I don’t have a zero bank balance; I’m always overdrawn. I’ve had trouble paying my rent. I can’t afford a car. If I have to buy a pair of shoes, then I have to eat ramen noodles for dinner. I don’t want to live like a student, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. I have 18 years of experience — I have a paralegal degree, I have HR skills — but I’m getting older and it’s much harder to job-hunt. When I get a job offer, I take it, even if the salary’s low. I tried to get a position at CVS or Target, and there’s 3,000 other applicants. I still apply. I don’t have that mentality of Oh, I don’t want that job! It’s beneath me. But I also want to find a great career where I have stability, insurance, paid sick days … I don’t have medical insurance. Obama­care is not affordable for me, and I don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. Every day is a gamble with my health. Struggling builds character. That’s what I keep telling myself. But character doesn’t pay the rent.”

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dec. 1

Obama announces a 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan.

Valerie JARRETT

On Deciding

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Valerie Jarrett Senior adviser to the president

“Oftentimes in meetings it’s unclear what the president’s position is — he leaves it intentionally ambiguous. I’ve seen him argue every side of an issue in a meeting, and in the end, our heads are spinning. But at the end of the process, you feel that your voice was heard. For the surge in Afghanistan, there was an enormous amount of pressure to make a decision. There were all kinds of numbers being floated around in the press, lots of unfortunate leaks. He said, ‘I’ll make a decision when I feel like I have all of the facts necessary to make an informed and important decision.’ And when he did, he announced it at West Point, which he chose because he thought it important to deliver his decision to the people whose lives would be most directly affected by it. I remember sitting in the audience, and the young men and women were on the edge of their chairs, knowing that their commander-­in-chief was making a decision to send some of them into harm’s way.”

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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dec. 11

Angry Birds hits the app store, and America discovers how much it loves wasting time. For a few years, no one goes broke underestimating the dumb stuff people will do on their phones.

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dec. 18

U.N. climate talks end in deadlock; the same day, James Cameron’s Avatar, an environmental jeremiad, begins its climb to being the highest-grossing film of all time.

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dec. 20

The NFL finally admits that football is dangerous and concussions can kill. Eighty-seven of 91 players’ brains posthumously tested have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

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Year 2

2010

Unemployment9.8%
Dow Jones10,583.96
GDP$14.96 TR.
Troops in Afghanistan79,100
Troops in Iraq95,900
jan. 19

Scott Brown is elected Massachusetts senator, turning Ted Kennedy’s seat Republican for the first time since 1952 and suddenly throwing the prospect of passing Obamacare into jeopardy.

Barack Obama:

Plan B

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“I’m talking to Rahm [Emanuel, then chief of staff] and Jim Messina [then deputy chief of staff] and saying, ‘Okay, explain to me how this happened.’ It was at that point that I learned that our candidate, Martha Coakley, had asked rhetorically, ‘What should I do, stand in front of Fenway and shake hands with voters?’ And we figured that wasn’t a good bellwether of how things might go.

This might have been a day or two before the election, but the point is: There is no doubt that we did not stay on top of that the way we needed to. This underscored a failing in my first year, which was the sort of perverse faith in good policy leading to good politics. I’ll cut myself some slack — we had a lot to do, and every day we were thinking, Are the banks going to collapse? Is the auto industry going to collapse? Will layoffs accelerate? We just didn’t pay a lot of attention to politics that first year, and the loss in Massachusetts reminded me of what any good president or elected official needs to understand: You’ve got to pay attention to public opinion, and you have to be able to communicate your ideas. But it happened, and the question then was, ‘What’s next?’

The most important phone call I made after that was to Nancy Pelosi, because the question I posed to her and to Harry Reid was, ‘Are you guys still game? Because if you guys are still game, we’ll find a way. But I can’t do it unless Democrats are willing to take what are going to be some tough votes.’ Now, part of my argument to them was that we’d already paid the price politically, and it’s not as if a failed health-care effort would be helpful in midterm elections. It was better to go ahead and push through and then show that we had gotten something done that was really important to the American people. But I give Nancy and Harry and a whole lot of Democrats enormous credit. It was one of those moments where a lot of people did the right thing even though the politics of it were bad. And I’ve said to the Democratic caucus when I’ve met with them in subsequent years that their willingness to go ahead and walk the plank to get the Affordable Care Act done is one of the reasons that I continue to be proud of the Democratic Party. For all its warts and all the mistakes that any political party makes — including catering to the interest groups that help get people elected — the truth is that the ACA vote showed that when people had to do something they thought was right even if it was not going to be helpful to their reelection, the majority of Democrats were willing to do it. Certainly Nancy and Harry were willing to do it. Once Nancy said, ‘I’m game,’ then it was really just a set of tactical questions: What legislative mechanisms could we use to advance legislation that was 90, 95 percent done but still had 5 percent of stuff that if we had gone through a regular process could have been cleaned up but that ultimately was still going to deliver real help to millions of people across the country?

One thing that I had to learn fairly early on in the process is that you have to have a plan B. You always have to be very quiet about your plan B, because you don’t want it to sabotage your plan A — and sometimes people are looking for an out and want plan B. But we had begun to look at what other paths might be possible. Once we knew it was possible, then it was really just a matter of working Congress.

A year later, when the left got irritated with me because of budget negotiations, there was always this contrast between Obama and LBJ, who really worked Congress. But I tell you, those two weeks, that was full LBJ. Every day we were working Democrats, because at this point there was no prospect of us getting any Republicans. [Our argument was] 80 percent a moral case, because the numbers weren’t with us. Poll numbers were rotten, people were angry.

The toughest sales were the folks who were least at risk, because it was transactional: ‘I’d like this, I need that.’ One of the things that’s changed from the Johnson era obviously is I don’t have a postmaster job. Shoot, not just Johnson’s age — ­Lincoln’s age. Good-government reforms have hamstrung an administration, which I think is for the most part for the best. But it means that what you’re really saying to them is, ‘This is the right thing to do, and I’ll come to your fund-raiser in Podunk and I will make sure that I’ve got your back.’

The folks who I will always consider the real heroes of the ACA were the legislators, mostly younger and in swing districts, who had tough races and were just a great bunch of guys. With them, it was an entirely moral case: What’s the point of being here if not this? A guy like Tom Perriello in Virginia, he was one of the first to say, ‘This is why I wanted to get elected: I want to help people, and I think it’s the right thing to do.’ And they almost all lost their seats.”

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Jan. 21

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court rules that limits on corporate spending on political campaigns were violations of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Since the decision, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, there has been more than $1 billion in super-pac spending, more than $600 million of which came from just 195 individuals and their spouses.

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“The First Amendment protects more than just the individual on a soapbox and the lonely pamphleteer.” —Chief Justice John Roberts

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Feb. 11

Kentucky becomes the first of 45 states to adopt the Common Core curriculum and testing regimen. By 2015, a typical student will take 112 standardized tests between prekindergarten and 12th grade.

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Mar. 7

Kathryn Bigelow becomes the first (and, to this day, only) woman to win an Oscar for Best Director, for The Hurt Locker, a movie about an Iraq War bomb-disposal squad.

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mar. 18

An iPhone 4 prototype is accidentally left in a bar, and the world reacts to the publication of its specs like Gizmodo has discovered a new steam engine. Actually, it has: Along with Instagram, which will launch later in the year, the iPhone’s front-facing camera will power a whole new culture of narcissism (and a whole new economy of fame).

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Mar. 22

Google pulls out of China; it’s one of more than 30 U.S. corporations that have been the target of sophisticated cyberattacks originating in the country. Announcing the decision, the company cites [REDACTED].

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Mar. 23

Obama­care, the biggest expansion of the social safety net since LBJ, becomes law without a single Republican vote, extending health-­insurance coverage to millions. Fifteen million fewer people will be uninsured, resulting in 87,000 fewer preventable deaths and $19.8 billion in cost savings. In the next six years, Republicans will try to repeal the law more than 60 times.

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Mar. 24

Birtherism runs rampant. A poll suggests at least a quarter of adult Americans, including one prominent reality-show host with presidential ambitions, doubt that President Obama was born in the United States.

Longer view

Obama Conspiracy Theories, a Partial List

mark jacobsonRead

Three thousand years ago, confronted with the mysteries of the universe, the Greeks invented a pantheon of gods and assigned each of them power over the sky and ocean, over love and intelligence. To explain the unexplainable is the realm of mythology. So when America woke up to find that a black man from Planet Harvard with a Star Trek name was suddenly the president — the commander-in-chief! — the most powerful person on Earth, a similar manufacture of meaning was set in motion. Thus the Obama Conspiracy Theory was born. Here are an even dozen:

Obama …
(1) Is “a Muslim.” (The middle name was the giveaway.)
(2) Was born in Kenya or Indonesia.
(3) Is the son of Malcolm X and/or the spawn of a Nazi gene-splicing experiment aimed at perpetuating the DNA of George Soros.
(4) Had Koranic verses inscribed on his wedding ring when he married Michelle.
(5) Is linked to 39 different Social Security numbers.
(6) Refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
(7) Got left-wing firebrand Bill Ayers to ghostwrite his memoir Dreams From My Father.
(8) Is complicit in a far-flung plot to hire “crisis actors” to play dead at mass-shooting scenes in order to take away the Second Amendment rights of Americans to protect themselves against a tyrannical government.
(9) Told war veterans to “stop whining” and pay their own medical bills while pushing his illegal Obamacare health-insurance plan.
(10) Has issued more executive orders than any other president in history.
(11) Is even at this late date still planning on declaring martial law to keep himself in office, thus thwarting the rightful ascension of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land.
(12) Is the very Antichrist figure described in the New Testament’s Epistles of John, the “Obamanation” himself come to usher in a 1,000-year reign of satanic terror.

The good news is the Obama-conspiracy period is unlikely to survive his presidency. Now, if we’re lucky, we’re going to return to the same old dreary tropes of ninth-hand Vincent Foster murder sagas. As Obama leaves office, one of the more painful memories is the recollection of all that talk of the post-racial society he was supposed to usher in. Now that was a real conspiracy theory.

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Apr. 2

The U.S. economy gains 162,000 nonfarm jobs, the biggest increase since the start of the recession.

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Apr. 3

WikiLeaks uploads “Collateral Murder” to YouTube. The 39-minute video shows a U.S. Army Apache helicopter firing on civilians in Iraq in 2007. It’s the first release from a trove of classified documents smuggled off military servers by Army intelligence analyst Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning that reveal secret U.S. military operations in Yemen, American diplomats’ spying on foreign officials, and reports of abuse and murder of Iraqi and Afghan civilians. Manning is convicted by court-martial in July 2013 and later sentenced to 35 years in prison, the longest sentence ever given to a government leaker.

From “Collateral Murder”

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17:10 Roger, I’ve got, uh, 11 Iraqi KIAs [killed in action]. One small child wounded. Over.
17:18 Roger. Ah, damn. Oh, well.
17:24 Roger, we need, we need a, uh, to evac [evacuate] this child. Ah, she’s got a, uh, she’s got a wound to the belly.
17:31 I can’t do anything here. She needs to get evaced. Over.
17:38 Bushmaster Seven, Bushmaster Seven; this is Bushmaster Six Romeo. We need your location, over.
17:45 Roger, we’re at the location where Crazyhorse engaged the RPG fire break.|
17:57 Grid five-four-five-eight.
18:06 Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.
18:09 That’s right.

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Clockwise from corner left: The very first Instagram, by CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom.; First #selfie: Instagram user Jennifer Lee coins a hashtag.; Ellen DeGeneres’s 2014 Oscars selfie goes viral.; More than 5 million likes for Selena Gomez.;.The most liked Instagram of 2014: Kim and Kanye’s wedding.; Justin Bieber has the first Instagram video to hit 1 million likes.
Apr. 20

Deepwater Horizon explodes, and Obama confronts what some call his first “Katrina moment.”

Barack Obama:

There Are Disasters, and Then There Are News-Cycle Disasters

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“The BP oil spill was the first event that taught me about a particular news cycle where there’s a real problem that can and will be solved — but one that garners, for whatever reason, 24/7 attention, with a sense of doom that gets ramped up and that we have to work through. It was the first time where we learned how to work through that noise. Objectively, if you look back, we managed what was the largest environmental disaster in American history — at least on the continental United States — better than or as well as any administration ever has. But in the midst of it there was this sense that things were completely out of control. The gap between the perception and the reality of what we were doing was stark.

We were on top of this thing from the start. When it happened, we assigned all our best people from all our agencies to start working on it. What made it unique was that, to my chagrin and surprise, nobody had ever seen anything like this before. And we had to invent a way to solve it. It came in very handy that I had a Nobel Prize–winning physicist as my Energy secretary. And he literally designed a little cap that essentially served as the specs for the construction of a mechanism to close the darn hole. But that took three months. What you realized was the degree to which [it mattered that the] camera down there is showing the plume of oil coming out. We started having gallows humor about the pelican, that it seemed like they had one pelican that they showed over and over again, covered in oil. It just was draining — or maybe the better analogy is ‘leaking’ — political capital every single day.

Staying focused and disciplined in moments where people — and certainly the press — are most likely to panic has overall served us well. It doesn’t always serve us well in the short term. There are times where I know that that’s perceived as Spock-like or cold or overly rational. What I think people don’t always appreciate is I go and visit these folks who are affected by these issues, and they break my heart. I’m grieving and thinking about them all the time. It’s not a lack of emotion. It’s an understanding that the single most important thing I can do for them is to get this right.

But to some degree, you couldn’t change that narrative until the hole was closed. For example, I went down there when it first happened, and it didn’t get a lot of coverage because people didn’t realize how bad it was, even though the press pool was with me. About two weeks later — when it hadn’t been closed yet — James Carville gets on TV and starts shouting, ‘Why isn’t the president down here?’ And poor [then–press secretary Robert] Gibbs was trying to remind everybody, ‘Well, the president was just down there two weeks ago, when you guys weren’t paying attention.’ We hadn’t timed it right with respect to the photo op.

But a year later, when we were able to say not only had we shut down the leak but I had personally in the Roosevelt Room negotiated a $20 billion settlement for victims from BP without any litigation so that everybody was paid off and there was money left over, that we had a fund to help restore tourism so that the following summer the gulf actually had a banner tourist year, that we had structured a restoration process that made a big chunk of the affected area much more resilient than it had been before — when we looked back on the work that we had done, we could do so with pride. And that gave both me and my team confidence when you’d have subsequent challenges like this. I think it was harder by the tenth ‘Obama Katrina’ to argue that it was an ‘Obama Katrina.’ Until healthcare.gov, which was entirely on us. Our hard-won reputation for good management took a well-deserved blow. That was dropping your left and getting socked in the jaw.”

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SLICKED: A brown pelican rescued from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Photo: Joel Sartore
Apr. 23

Arizona governor Jan Brewer signs a law allowing police to detain anyone they believe might be an illegal immigrant, saying her state can’t afford “the kidnappings and the extortion and the beheadings.” Obama will cite the heated rhetoric over immigration a month later when he calls for comprehensive reform.

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May 1

“You might have heard we passed a health-care bill … Some Republicans have suggested that the bill contains a few secret provisions. That’s ridiculous. There aren’t a few secret provisions in the health-care plan — there are, like, hundreds.” —Barack Obama, White House Correspondents’ Dinner

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May 2

Austerity marches across Europe as Greece is bailed out of debt in exchange for public-spending cuts and tax hikes; a nationwide strike and massive protests follow.

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May 10

Obama nominates Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. And that makes four.

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May 31

Uber launches a car service in San Francisco — and a million “It’s the Uber of …” dreams across America.

Longer view

Capitalists Learn to Share

michael hirschornRead

There is no douchier founding mythology than that of Uber, conceived in Paris shortly after Obama’s first election and developed in earnest during the first hope-drunk months of his first term. “Jamming on ideas, rapping on what’s next is what entrepreneurs do,” Uber’s now-CEO Travis Kalanick wrote in a 2010 blog post describing Uber’s beginnings. Kalanick wrote that his co-founder Garrett Camp’s “m.o. fits the Uber brand. He likes to roll in style, comfort and convenience. His over-the-top idea in Paris that winter started as a limo timeshare service. I think his original pitch had me and him splitting the costs of a driver, a Mercedes S-Class, and a parking spot in a garage, so that I could use an iPhone app to get around San Francisco on-demand. Hilarious! Obviously things have changed quite a bit ;)”

Tech bro lolz! And btw thanks for introducing surge pricing after the Chelsea bombing the other week. It is incredibly easy to be cynical about the so-called sharing economy, that catchall term that encompasses everything from Airbnb to Via to Lyft to a bevy of more recent start-ups that seek to solve society’s age-old problem of insufficiently optimized resource allocation by encouraging the public to share and monetize cars, homes, bicycles, even power tools. It’s all part of the great pancaking of the U.S. economy, and it has exploded as fast as any marketplace since social media.

There is an almost Talmudic debate among tech theorists over what is and isn’t legitimately part of the “sharing economy,” and what its impact will be on our social and economic fabric. There’s no doubt it’s maximally “disruptive.” Airbnb by several accounts pushes rents up as entrepreneurs gobble up homes to rent to tourists for investment purposes. But flip such gimlet-eyed analyses on their heads and you see an explosion of free-form entrepreneurship, a rapid eradication of regulatory chokeholds that left many cities unable to innovate and tourists and tourism fleeced by extortionate identikit hotel “hospitality.”

On a recent visit to Toronto, I was lucky enough to stay part of the week in a townhouse chosen through Airbnb, a quirky number in a surprising neighborhood that opened up the city in a way that three days at the DoubleTree by Hilton conspicuously failed to do. Viewed through the lightest imaginative scrim we use to turn the quotidian into a kind of ongoing romantic-dramatic narrative, interactions with the so-called sharing economy have added value to my life in ways I never expected. The prevailing (and largely correct) narrative is about the isolation and dislocation wrought by the smartphone and social media, but societal trends inevitably provoke strong countertrends. The explosion of DIY handcrafting of everything from beer to chocolate to butchering to the crap you find on Etsy likely would not have happened but as a back-to-the-farm reaction to the alienation of digital-only life. Likewise, the sharing economy has begun to allow us to grow back the connective social tissue that social media tore asunder.

Culturally, it continues the broader march away from an ownership society: Netflix and Spotify and their ilk have eliminated the need to own ­movies, TV, and music, and it is an easy leap from Uber and Zipcar and those new driverless Google cars to a world in which automobiles become a shared commodity summoned by a groovy iPhone app, paid for via subscription or per usage. And the shift from communal work spaces like those offered by WeWork to communal, hostel-style living is already under way. The ironies are legion: The most-red-meat manifestation of hyper­capitalism in history (Silicon Valley) is pointing the way to at least half of the socialistic, post-­ownership society Karl Marx might have envisioned. We may still be bowling alone (this time on our Bowling King for iOS app), but we are UberPooling together.

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jun. 30

Student loans surpass credit-card debt, with $829.785 billion owed.

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Jul. 8

LeBron James announces his decision to sign with the Miami Heat. The announcement is made on a live TV special.

Longer View

The Obama of Basketball and the LeBron of Politics

Will LeitchRead

Lebron James’s The Decision, the fateful television show in which he announced he would be leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to “take my talents to South Beach,” might have been the definitive sports moment of the Obama years. It was clearly the lowest of his professional career, and at the time it seemed it would permanently sink him into sports ignominy; there are some stubborn folks who still haven’t forgiven him for the vanity of the show or the “audacity” of the move. But looking back on it now — when LeBron has since returned to Cleveland, won a championship, and been charming in a Judd Apatow ­movieThe Decision was less about breaking Cleveland’s heart and more about a young black athlete understanding his worth and maximizing his leverage. He was signing as a free agent with a team filled with really good friends, rather than the one that had criminally underpaid him and refused to sign any decent players to surround him with. It was LeBron saying, “I’m in charge here, not the old white power structure, and I’m doing what I want.” It was a very Obama-era move.

Strange as it is to say, their careers ran in parallel. Before Obama gave his career-catapulting speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, reporter (and later Obama biographer) David Mendell asked if he was ready for his big moment. Obama smiled wide, Mendell later wrote. “I’m LeBron, baby… I can play on this level. I got some game.” Today, of course, this statement sounds like simple boasting, one of the greatest orators in America’s history nodding to one of the greatest American athletes of all time. But at the time, LeBron was a 19-year-old, still just a month out of his rookie season, figuring his way around a league that eyed the young phenom and all his hype warily.

Now LeBron is wearing an I CAN’T BREATHE T-shirt at a shootaround, giving what was called a Black Lives Matter speech at the ESPY Awards, talking about buying a team when he retires, and joking about running for public office. It’s not the traditional, ’60s-style activism, with Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali protesting the draft and supporting civil rights. If anything, it’s the next step in the evolution: an African-American athlete realizing the power he possesses and choosing to wield it. After all, if a skinny black kid with an awkward jumper could make it all the way to the White House, what else is possible?

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Jul. 21

Obama signs into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the most comprehensive overhaul of financial regulation since the Great Depression. Bankers and liberals are both incensed.

Bernie Sanders:

Triumph of the Oligarchs

franklin foerRead
Bernie Sanders, Vermont senator and 2016 presidential contender

Franklin Foer: Dodd-Frank was clearly a sincere effort to try to reform the system, to at least stop a repeat of the last ….

Bernie Sanders: I wouldn’t say “reform the system.” I would say put some checks and balances into a system which had been deregulated [to the point] where Wall Street could do anything.

FF: Why isn’t that reform? Is that too strong a word for you?

BS: Reform would be to say that it is bad public policy when six financial institutions have assets equivalent to 57 percent of the GDP of the United States. That would be reform.

FF: There’s no reform without breaking them up?

BS: I’m not saying no reform, but you have a situation where six major financial institutions are writing two-thirds of the credit cards and issuing one-third of the mortgages. In fact, the major banks are larger today than they were before Dodd-Frank.

FF: It’s almost as if you’re saying there was really never any hope for financial “reform” — we’ll do air quotes — because the president’s analysis of the system just wasn’t up to the problem.

BS: All right, let me just say one more time …

FF: Okay, you like Obama.

BS: This country is a lot better as a result of Obama, and he had to do that against fierce opposition. On the other hand, to my mind, the great issue of our time is the movement toward oligarchy. And that means the power of Wall Street, the power of corporate America, the power of the billionaire class to own the politics of this country. So we have made progress, but the fundamental issue of taking on the one percent and the greed of the billionaire class, that has not occurred.

FF: There’s this analysis you often hear that the reason we didn’t have more robust financial reform is that there was a set of the Democratic Party that was closer to Wall Street and they ended up cycling back through the administration. Do you think that that misses the point?

BS: The president appoints people. President Obama, in a big mistake, basically did what Republicans wanted and appointed Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to chair a commission on the deficit crisis. Simpson is a right-wing Republican who had been very clear about his hatred for Social Security, and Bowles is a Wall Street Democrat. So that tells you something. Still, the bottom line is: Today in America, the economy is in much better shape than when Obama first came in. He deserves credit. More people have health insurance, poverty is down. On the other hand, the angst of the moment is that people see this country moving into an oligarchic form of society — where we have a grotesque level of income and wealth inequality where the political system is being bought by Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers. Now, he can’t be blamed for that. He didn’t …

FF: But you’re saying that he could have set a different tone.

BS: Right. I think what the president had to do, which he chose not to do, is to make it clear that we have got to deal with the greed of the one percent of corporate America and Wall Street, that their practices cannot continue. That is an approach he has chosen not to take. I think a lot of this has to do with his inner ­decency — he happens to be a very decent guy. And when he came in, he honestly believed that he could sit down with people like Tom Coburn and extreme-right-wing Republicans and say, “Look, I can’t get it all, you’re not gonna get it all, let’s work out a compromise.” What he didn’t catch onto for years, for his entire first term, is these people had zero intention of compromising.

FF: But what you’re saying is actually more specific than that. In order to have real leverage going forward, he needed to scare the crap out of these guys on some level.

BS: In 2008, he ran one of the great campaigns in the history of the United States. Brilliant campaign. Did he mobilize the energy and the coalition that he put together into a powerful political force which would have helped him fight for the change that this country needed? The answer is no. Now, he will tell you, “Well, yeah, that’s kinda right, but you know what? It’s a little bit harder than you think.”

FF: And you’re saying that too?

BS: Yeah, it is harder than you think to mobilize people. That is a true point. Did he do everything that he could have? I think the answer is no, he did not. Rather than making the Republicans an offer they could not refuse because millions of people were standing behind him, he chose to sit down with Republicans and negotiate. I think his politics are not the politics of taking on these people.

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

[Read the Full Interview Between Bernie Sanders and Franklin Foer]
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Jul. 22

A bill to create a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions goes the way of the wetlands and the polar bears after its passage in the Senate is deemed politically impossible.

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aug. 17

The 576th soldier dies in Afghanistan since Obama took office, surpassing the total who died under President Bush.

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Aug. 23

Obama’s weekly job-approval rating hits a new low of 43 percent as Americans realize they didn’t elect the messiah.

Longer view

The Absurdity of Hope

mark lillaRead

Americans are addicted to hope. We think the world is infinitely malleable and that with enough pluck and elbow grease anything is possible. We believe that everything and everyone can be redeemed, that the movie will always end with the hero walking away from the wreckage or the town cheering. We believe in conversions and getting a new life. We don’t talk about our plans, we talk about our dreams. We scoff at the ancient Stoic lesson that recognizing limits and living within them is the key to happiness. Limits are undemocratic, reality a construct. And tomorrow is another day.

We bring the same attitude to politics. That and a very short memory. We forget that this election’s promises were last election’s, too — and that very little came of them for reasons we don’t bother to look into. We convince ourselves that party X really will “slash government,” when in fact spending is destined to grow given the demands we make on it and our international responsibilities. We profess faith in party Y’s plan to “end poverty as we know it,” when in fact we don’t know enough about poverty to end it. A year after the votes are counted, when it dawns on us that the country hasn’t yet got a new life, the puppy of hope turns into the Rottweiler of despair. We spend the next two years stewing and blaming Washington and the media, encouraged to do so by Washington and the media.

And then, as the debates and primaries and conventions come round again, we forget all that and convince ourselves that this time the messiah really is coming.

We are a nation of children.

Barack Obama understood the power of hope — he campaigned on it. Even Bill Clinton, who ran as the man from Hope, did not have the audacity to present himself as the man heading for Hope.

It appears that Obama genuinely believed his own rhetoric. But once elected, Obama did what grown-up politicians do: He got to work. He learned and talked to experts; he read documents and stayed up late. He was responsible. He also refused to be the nation’s Chief Happiness Officer and gave up telling us bedtime stories.

For this, he was punished. He raised expectations he could not meet, which just infuriated the kids, who kept pouting until Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders offered them ice cream. (Even Shepard Fairey, the artist who designed his famous hope campaign poster, abandoned Obama for Sanders.) You can see the parental weariness on our president’s face when he has to deal with us. When, he wonders, will they ever grow up?

The answer is never. Because we treat bowing to reality as a punishable offense, we are stuck in this cycle. There is no exit. It’s a situation Franz Kafka would have appreciated. Once an anxious friend who read his stories asked him whether he thought there was any hope in the world at all. Kafka laughed and replied, “Oh, plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope — but not for us.”

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Aug. 31

As promised, Obama announces the end of combat operations in Iraq. Though the last American combat brigade has already departed, 50,000 “advisers” and Special Operations troops are left behind.

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Sep. 12

Lady Gaga wears a meat dress to the MTV Video Music Awards. A year later, she’ll be singing duets with Tony Bennett.

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Sep. 23

Blockbuster declares bankruptcy. It’s been less than two years since the first documented use of the phrase “Netflix and chill.”

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Nov. 2

Republicans sweep the midterm elections, taking control of the House, with a little help from two of the richest men in America, Charles and David Koch.

on their beat

Jane Mayer: Koch Country

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Jane Mayer Author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right and New Yorker staff writer

“The democrats’ massive defeat in the 2010 midterm elections was probably the Kochs’ greatest political achievement. Under the radar, they and their donor group poured money into races all over the country. Republicans picked up 63 seats in the House, taking control and sandbagging the rest of Obama’s presidency.

Within days of Obama’s first inauguration, the Kochs had gathered with several hundred of the richest conservatives in America in a secret meeting to plot how to undo the election’s returns and ensure that Obama would fail as a president. In the first term alone, this group included 18 billionaires whose combined net worth as of 2015 was $214 billion—and that number excludes the mere millionaires. They were funding what became the ostensibly grassroots ‘tea party’ rebellion. They financed the market research that described Obama’s health-care plan as a ‘government takeover’ — which PolitiFact called ‘the lie of the year,’ and their operatives organized rallies accusing Obama of planning ‘death panels.’ Their operatives boasted of making town-hall meetings with elected officials ‘absolute hell.’ When Obama’s health-care plan passed anyway, they doubled down, deciding to spend whatever it took to defeat the Democratic majority in Congress in 2010, which they did. Many of the ugly lies and slurs you see now were first trotted out in those 2010 midterm races.

The single most important item the Koch network has obstructed is congressional action on climate change. They and their allies represent the combined force of the fossil-fuel industry, and they have funded contrarian science that denies the reality of climate change. By spending strategically, they successfully killed efforts to put a price on carbon pollution — the so-called cap-and-trade bill — as well as many other efforts to help the country move toward alternative energy. The president told the New York Times recently that climate change is the most terrifying issue we face. So the Kochs can take credit for causing what is perhaps Obama’s greatest regret: his inability to do more to stop climate change.”

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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Nov. 3

Ben Bernanke announces that the Fed is going to buy an additional $600 billion worth of Treasury bonds.

Longer view

Easy Money

felix salmonRead

The story of the economy in the Obama years is in many ways a tale of loose money. Back in the grim autumn of 2008, Chair Ben Bernanke took the most important weapon in his arsenal, the Fed-funds target rate, and slashed it all the way to zero — an unprecedented move and a clear signal of just how seriously he was taking the economic emergency.

That move, along with three rounds of so-called quantitative easing, or QE, where the Fed pumped money into the financial markets by buying bonds, constituted the biggest and mightiest monetary-policy experiment ever undertaken: an unorthodox attempt by the Fed, along with other leading central banks, to prevent the collapse of the global economy.

Most people thought the Fed’s zero-interest-rate policy, or ZIRP, would be a temporary gambit, a desperate emergency measure. However, the Fed funds rate has stayed near zero for the duration of Obama’s presidency. (There was one minuscule rate hike, of one-quarter of one percent, in December 2015.) ZIRP became what financier Mohamed El-Erian once called “the new normal.”

The effects of ZIRP and QE were wide-ranging and mostly felt in the prices of financial assets, like stocks, bonds, and real estate. With the world’s central banks sending trillions of dollars into the financial system, the Dow soared from below 6,500 to above 18,000; the price of bonds rose to all-time highs; million-dollar apartments started being considered cheap. For financial investors, the Obama years turned out exceptionally well. But really they have the central bank to thank, much more than the president.

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Year 3

2011

Unemployment9.1%
Dow Jones11,670.75
GDP$15.52 TR.
Troops in Afghanistan99,800
Troops in Iraq45,600
Jan. 8

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords is shot, along with 19 others, by Jared Lee Loughner, a 22-year-old mentally deranged conspiracist who had kept a file on the congresswoman in which he had written “die bitch.”

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Jan. 8

Tiger mother Amy Chua explains “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” kicking off a joyous conversation about which Americans are worse parents.

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Jan. 25

The Arab Spring comes to Egypt. Tens of thousands gather in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest the dictatorial rule of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. After weeks of violent protests, his regime is overthrown.

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Feb. 15

Then Libyans gather to protest dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The uprising soon becomes a civil war.

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Feb. 16

Borders files for bankruptcy, prompting the writing of a thousand think pieces about the death of books.

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Mar. 2

Apple announces that it has sold 100 million iPhones. Within a few months it will overtake ExxonMobil as the most valuable company in the world.

Longer View

Earthlings Gain a New Appendage

James GleickRead

What if we had the singularity and nobody noticed? In 2007, Barack Obama had been on the trail for weeks, using a BlackBerry like all the cool campaigners, when the new thing went on sale and throngs lined up for it. The new thing had a silly name: iPhone. The iPhone was a phone the way the Trojan horse was a horse.

Now it’s the gizmo without which a person feels incomplete. It’s a light in the darkness, a camera, geolocator, hidden mic, complete ­Shakespeare, stopwatch, sleep aid, heart monitor, podcaster, aircraft spotter, traffic tracker, all-around reality augmenter, and increasingly (’Sup, Siri?) a pal. At the Rio Olympics you could see people, having flown thousands of miles to be in the arena with the athletes, watching the action through their smartphones. As though they needed the mediating lens to make it real.

This device, this gadget — a billion have been made and we scarcely know what to call it. For his 2010 novel of the near future, Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart made up a word, “äppärät.” “My äppärät buzzing with contacts, data, pictures, projections, maps, incomes, sound, fury.” Future then, present now. His äppäräti were worn around the neck on pendants. Ours are in our pockets when they aren’t in our hands, but they also sprout earbuds, morph into wristwatches and eyeglasses. Contact lenses have been rumored; implants are only a matter of time.

Let’s face it, we’ve grown a new organ.

You will recall that technofuturists invented the term “Singularity” for the notional evolutionary milestone when the machines take over and we poor humans go obsolete. Silicon passes carbon in the life-form sweepstakes. You may consider this an apocalypse or an awakening, according to taste. I once heard the sci-fi writer William Gibson describe the Singularity sardonically as “the geek rapture.” We might have taken the hint when Google decided to name its version Android.

Machinery that takes over our biological functions may serve us, like prosthetics, expanding and amplifying our humanity, but not everyone feels expanded or amplified. Again, it’s a matter of taste. With every gain comes a loss — memory being the first to go. Amnesiacs with prosthetic memory. The äppäräti demand attention, so even eating meals in restaurants, pushing children in strollers, attending weddings or ­funerals — anywhere, that is, in what is laughingly called “the real world” — people are only half-present. We become sidewalk zombies, downward facing, oblivious to our immediate fellows and the storefronts past which we glide. We resemble wraiths.

Still, the zombies are often smiling — evidently chatting or texting with invisible spirits who are, after all, just other humans. We are in each other’s ears. Our sense of community, or communities, is surely as rich and complex as ever, even if the other “social” networks are virtual. Before, the internet was just a place we visited. Now we seem to have moved in. If we prefer the terminology popularized by Gibson’s Neuromancer and the Wachowskis’ Matrix movies, we may think of ourselves as “jacking in.”

That is the true purpose of the magic box. It’s the portal. It’s the jack. So, sure, call it a fancy phone. A mini-camera. An electronic commodity, a status object, a bit of bling. But in a short few years, it has changed what it means to be human.

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Mar. 15

Syrians gather in Aleppo and Damascus for the first time to protest the Bashar al-Assad regime, risking arrest and torture. Within three months, civil war will begin.

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Mar. 17

The U.N. Security Council authorizes military intervention in Libya to protect civilians against Qaddafi’s troops.

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Apr. 17

Game of Thrones arrives on television with an assemblage of dragons, torture, nudity, incest, and despair — a show the whole family can enjoy.

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Apr. 22

Gwyneth Paltrow makes kale chips on Ellen.

Grub Street Chat

Explaining Kale

Adam Platt, Alan SytsmaRead

ADAM PLATT: Many things in Foodlandia, these days, have a political element to them, and if you want to emblazon a flag to be carried into battle, you could do worse than a bristly, semi-digestible bunch of locally grown kale.

ALAN SYTSMA: To eat kale is to announce you’re a person who cares about the matters of the day.

AP: The idea of kale is much more powerful than kale itself. In short order it went from being discovered, to appreciated, to being something that was parodied. Frankly, I’m all for the parody.

AS: The same thing happened to pork. Remember bacon peanut brittle? Bacon-fat cocktails? There’s bacon dental floss.

AP: Ahhh, bacon versus kale. The two great, competing forces of our time.

AS: Do you think one gave way to the other?

AP: What we’re really talking about is artisanal bacon, and the more sophisticated-sounding pork belly, made from pigs that were lovingly reared at upstate farms and fed diets of pristine little acorns. Bacon is the great symbol in the comfort-food, farm-fresh-dining movement, a kind of merry, unbridled pulchritude. Kale is the righteous yin to pork’s fatty, non-vegan yang.

AS: But pork has an advantage: People like the way it tastes.

AP: That’s a huge advantage, one that will hopefully see it through to victory.

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Apr. 30

“Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is prouder to put this birth-certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter. Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?” —Barack Obama, White House Correspondents’ Dinner, days after posting his birth certificate to whitehouse.gov

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May 2

SEAL Team Six kills Osama bin Laden, raiding his secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, while Obama and his top advisers watch a live feed of the mission from the White House Situation Room. The picture of the assembled becomes the Last Supper of the Obama era.

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May 13

Bridesmaids opens, and women-driven comedy becomes, both commercially and artistically, the center of pop culture.

Reading Movies

Poop Feminism

Liz MeriwetherRead

For me, it’s one moment. All the bridesmaids have come to the fancy bridal shop to see Maya Rudolph try on wedding dresses. This should be a familiar scene: The bride emerges from the changing room and … This is the dress! The friends clap. The mother cries. Everyone is a princess. Go ahead and twirl!

But when the bride emerges in Bridesmaids, almost all of her friends have started to feel sick. Sweat coats their skin. Red splotches creep over their faces. They try to “ooh” and “aah,” but it’s already too late. It starts with a gag from Melissa McCarthy, followed by another gag. Then a gag that comes simultaneously with a tiny wet fart. It’s the smallness of the fart that’s important here. It’s the kind of fart that slips out — a fart that could be excused away, a brief, incongruous accident. Women don’t fart in wedding movies, and women certainly don’t fart at the exact moment that the bride comes out in her dress. This can’t be happening. ­Melissa McCarthy blames the fart on the tightness of her dress. We breathe a sigh of relief.

Then sweet Ellie Kemper gags, and the sound effect is surprisingly nasty. Ellie’s face is gray. Melissa’s face is red. They look bad. They are embarrassed. How far is this going to go?

Wendi McLendon-Covey wet-farts quietly, and the manager is horrified. Now we get another fart from Melissa. This one is deeper and darker. Foreboding. Kristen Wiig stares at Rose Byrne, as both women realize how serious this could be. Wendi tells everyone she has to get off the white carpet. She runs to the bathroom. The bridesmaids follow. The manager yells after them, “Not the bathroom!” We laugh. We don’t think this through — how are all of them going to use the same bathroom? It doesn’t matter, because we will never actually go inside the bathroom. This must be where it ends. This is a “women’s picture.”

Suddenly, we are in the bathroom, running alongside Wendi as she races for the toilet. She doesn’t make it in time. We barely have time to react, when Melissa runs in after her. The camera pans up fast to see her desperation. We are watching a war now. “I need the toilet! Please! I need the toilet!” Wendi uses one of her arms to push her away. We go tight on Melissa’s face as she spins around. For a split second, we are suspended, waiting to see what she’ll do. She’s going to puke in the sink. It will be funny, and then it will be over. That’s the only thing that makes sense. That is the limit of our imagination. We cut wide again to see the bathroom. Why are we in such a wide shot? If she’s just going to puke in the sink, we don’t need to see her whole body. Melissa knocks the Kleenexes and towels off the bathroom counter. And then … she starts to hike up her dress.

This is the moment. Change for women in this country has come in many forms. Some change is big and loud and hard-won and can be put in writing. Some change is as small and simple as a handshake. And some change comes without warning while you are sitting in a dark theater in the spring of 2011, and you are laughing so hard that you don’t realize you are actually screaming.

Melissa McCarthy starts to hike up her dress. She’s wearing black strappy sandals. It’s not possible. This can’t be happening. She hoists her body up onto the sink. “Oh! Oh!” she screams at a high pitch, like an animal caught in a trap. She is fully on top of the sink now. Her head flies back, her legs shoot out, and Wendi calls out the one word we are all thinking, “No! No!” Then comes Melissa’s beautiful, perfect response. The kicker. The cherry on top. “Look away!” Melissa screams. “Look away!”

The camera cuts. We are above now. We look down from a safe perch as the release we have been anticipating and dreading begins. It is horribly, earth-­shatteringly gross. A woman has just pooped in a sink. The revolution has begun.

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May 16

The debt ceiling is reached for the first time since the government shutdown of 1995, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner directs his department to use “extraordinary measures” to save funds. This is six months after the Bowles-Simpson commission recommended a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan that won no support in Congress or the White House. As the deficit continued to rise, congressional Republicans realized they held the power to deny the Treasury — and thus Obama — the ability to continue to borrow. The threat of federal-government default becomes, as Mitch McConnell later describes it, “a hostage that’s worth ransoming.”

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Jun. 18

A “golf summit” between John Boehner and Barack Obama stirs hope that perhaps the two parties will come to a budget agreement and forestall a true crisis. Secret and semi-secret talks continue over weeks.

David Plouffe, Brett Loper, and Joe Biden

A Grand Bargain That Wasn’t, Remembered Three Ways

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David Plouffe Former senior adviser to the president

“The president of the United States and the Speaker of the House, the two most powerful elected officials in Washington, decided in a conversation that they both had to try to make something happen. Maybe it would be the way it worked in a West Wing episode in a world that doesn’t work like a West Wing episode. That’s how it started — two individuals saying we’re going to try. I think they both shared a belief in the art of the possible, and they both did not think compromise was a dirty word.

When our cover was blown — a Wall Street Journal editorial came out saying that Boehner and Obama were working on this and attacking the whole premise — that was devastating. It resulted in Cantor being a part of the talks. [Majority Leader Eric] Cantor and Boehner came in, and I think it was a weekend private session with the president in the Oval Office, and they were talking about the numbers. At one point Cantor said, ‘Listen, it’s not just the numbers. There’s concern that this will help you politically. Paul Ryan said if we do this deal, it will guarantee your reelection. If we agree with Barack Obama on spending and taxes, that takes away one of our big weapons.’ There were so many obstacles, some of them substantive — how much revenue, and what about the entitlements? — but there was also this overlay of ‘This is going to help Obama.’

That conversation was quite illuminating. If we have a long-term fiscal deal with entitlements, infrastructure spending, tax reform, and they can’t say Democrats are big spenders anymore, that’s a hard thing for them to give up, just as it would be hard for Democrats, if we agree on long-term entitlement reform, to accuse them anymore of wanting to cut Medicare and Social Security. Both parties like their daggers.”

Brett Loper Former deputy chief of staff to John Boehner

“Given the unique circumstance that was created by the Bush tax cuts — where doing nothing meant that everyone’s taxes were going to be increased beyond what anyone on either side of the aisle wanted them to be — Boehner thought we had not only an incentive but enough of an open question mark and a real deadline that you were going to be forced to reach a compromise.

One of the challenges was that many Republicans believed that because the president had blinked in 2010 [by extending the Bush tax cuts for two years] he’d blink again in 2012. What Boehner saw was a potential opportunity to thread the needle, where we rested at a point on revenue that was more revenue than what would occur if Bush’s tax cuts were enacted into perpetuity, but in exchange for conceding somewhere in between current law and current policy, we’d get the Democrats to go along with changes to entitlement programs. That was the dance.

There was a moment in time where they had the outlines of an agreement and we went off to fill in some additional details between the two staffs pursuant to a meeting that had occurred on a Sunday morning at the White House. Then the president came in after church, right around lunchtime, and he took Boehner and Cantor into the Oval and they chatted among themselves for a while and Obama came back and said, ‘Look, we’re basically at an agreement here, let’s talk about what else we need to nail it down and the logistics of trying to move it.’ We were that close.

We shipped them some paperwork Sunday night. We didn’t hear anything from them that night. Monday — nothing. Finally, Tuesday morning, they call and say, ‘Hey, are you aware of what the Senate Gang of Six is going to do?’ We get called to the White House on Wednesday, and Obama basically opens the meeting with, ‘Hey, your best friend [then–Georgia senator] Saxby Chambliss just agreed to a number that is $5 billion higher in revenue than what we discussed on Sunday. I can’t cut a deal with you that’s worse than the one Chambliss was involved in.’ That was the beginning of the end of our agreement.”

Joe Biden Vice-president

“Eric Cantor’s a very smart guy and a decent man. John Boehner’s a decent guy and was informed. Mitch McConnell knows what he speaks of, and he’s the best counter in the Senate: Whatever votes he tells you he had, he had. I literally probably had a couple hundred hours of private meetings at my home with them. One of the problems, though, is that old bad joke: What happens when the dog catches the bus? Well, they caught the bus in 2010. They got a congressional majority that are not your father’s Republicans.

So on some occasions, they didn’t want their caucus to know they were negotiating. But we spent an awful lot of time in detailed, detailed discussions about how to deal with everything from the potential for a government shutdown in 2010 to the budget deal in 2011 to the fiscal cliff in 2012 and beyond. Not a single thing leaked out of those discussions, and we went through the budget literally line by line — where would they be willing to raise revenue? Could they, for example, raise revenue by eliminating the tax cuts for small aircraft that are not taxed the same as commercial airlines? It got that detailed. We would shake hands and have a deal. Then, somewhere between seven hours and seven days later, I’d get a phone call saying, ‘Joe, I can’t do it, my caucus will throw me out.’ ”

Illustrations by Lauren Tamaki

[Read the Full Joe Biden Interview]
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Jun. 20

Fifty Shades of Grey is self-published and goes on to sell over 100 million copies. Suddenly it becomes acceptable to read BDSM erotica on the subway.

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Jun. 22

Obama announces the first round of troop reductions since the start of the war in Afghanistan, pledging to continue a steady drawdown until 2014. “The tide of war is receding,” he swears.

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jun. 30

Glenn Beck kisses his beloved chalkboards good-bye. He leaves Fox News, and mainstream media.

On Their Beat

Glenn Beck: That Time When I Was Paul Revere

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“In 2009, according to Gallup, I was the fourth-most-admired man in America, between the pope and Nelson Mandela. I know — that’s crazy, right? And the very next year, I was one of the most hated men in America.

What I remember from my show is the fact that I did get an opportunity to warn people of what could be over the horizon. I was trying to teach them the history of our country and the Founding Fathers. That’s almost impossible to do in today’s society, and I am proud that I did it and that I could move an audience emotionally on those dry topics.

The downside is, I didn’t realize how divided we were and the forces that were at play — not just with me, but all around the globe even — that were dividing us. If Donald Trump were running with a D after his name, many conservatives would never accept any of the stuff that he’s talking about. They would be horrified by his policies and by everything he says. But because he has an R after his name, they suddenly accept it and hold him up as the great savior. That, to me, is the failing of me and other people like me and the tea party: that we didn’t plant principles deep enough into people’s hearts. People just want to win, and unfortunately that’s all throughout our culture. That’s not a conservative thing. They want something, they want it now, and that’s not what gets us to a stable civilization.”

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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jul. 14

Spotify arrives in the U.S., killing the MP3 in half the time it took the MP3 to kill the CD.

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Aug. 1

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords returns to the House floor for the first time since being shot in a massacre in January, casting a vote in favor of the debt-ceiling deal.

Gabrielle Giffords

A Rare Moment of Unity

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“I was doing intensive rehabilitation in Houston at the time but was following the debate closely, and I was pretty disappointed at what was happening in Washington. I’d seen the debate grow so bitter and divisive and so full of partisan rancor. And I was worried our country was hurtling toward a disastrous, self-inflicted economic crisis. That morning, when it became clear the vote was going to be close, my husband, Mark, and I knew we needed to get to Washington quickly. I went straight from my rehabilitation appointment to the airport, and Mark was at our house in Houston packing our bags so he could meet us at the plane.

That night, I remember seeing the Capitol for the first time since I was injured and feeling so grateful to be at work. I will never forget the reception I received on the floor of the House from my colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats. And then, like I had so many times before, I voted.

After I resigned from Congress to continue my recovery, and Mark retired from the U.S. Navy and NASA, we hoped to have a second chance at service. We wondered what our path might be. The tragedy at Sandy Hook gave us the answer. There is a sea change happening in the movement to prevent gun tragedies. Groups like ours are finally helping to bring some balance back to the politics of this issue; no longer does the gun lobby have the playing field to itself. I always tell people that like my recovery, it’s a long, hard haul — but it would be worth it.

I worked so hard to get my speech back, and honestly, talking to people who share my determination helped me find my words again. I’ve been to Alaska, Maine, and everywhere in between. Best of all, I got back on my bike. Riding my bike once seemed like such a huge challenge. It seemed impossible.”

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Aug. 2

Finally: a budget deal. In a mad rush, Congress passes and the president signs the Budget Control Act, a compromise that lifts the debt ceiling but sets the stage for future clashes.

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aug. 2

Still, Standard & Poor’s downgrades the country’s credit rating, a humiliating and painful consequence of the chaos in Washington.

Joe Biden

Staring China Down

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“Two weeks after we got downgraded, I went to China, because President Hu and President Obama had agreed early in the year that Vice-President Xi and I would get to know one another. It was a nice tactic on their part—they set up a meeting in the Great Hall of the People with more press than I thought lived in China. All the financial reporters came too because Biden was going to get his comeuppance: Man, the United States was downgraded for the first time. I walked in, and Hu was being very smart. He looked at me and said he thought America would come back and that they wanted to be able to help, but he wanted to be sure their investments in our Treasury bills were secure. And I said, “Oh, Mr. President, I’ve read that you went out and bought billions of dollars worth of T-bills, and that you’re trying to help us, but really, we don’t need you. I don’t want you to have to put yourself out like that.”

[Read the Full Biden Interview]
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Aug. 15

For the first time in his presidency, a Gallup poll shows a majority of Americans think Obama is doing a bad job.

David Axelrod

Time to Give Up?

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“This was probably the nadir of the administration — not only were his polling numbers the worst they were in the entire eight years he’s spent in office, but he was entering a reelection campaign, and he looked incredibly weak at that moment. I went and saw him in midst of that at the White House. We went down to the basketball court. It was the tennis court but they’d put baskets up. We played a little HORSE and he beat me of course. We sat down on a bench beside the court and I asked him if he ever had any regrets that he had run, which didn’t seem like a crazy question, given the misery that was going on at the time. He looked at me incredulously and said, ‘Why would you even ask that?’ I said, ‘Because this seems like a really excruciating job right now.’ And he said, ‘Listen, if you’re going to do public service, then do it at the highest possible level that you can do it, at where you can make the biggest contribution.’ He said, ‘I have no regrets. I’m thrilled to be here.’ That was interesting to me. He’s not a guy who wallows in difficult moments. He doesn’t get caught up in his own problems, he doesn’t fret, he doesn’t wring his hands. He went off on vacation shortly after that and he spent a lot of time thinking about how to come out of this and fight his way back.”

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Sep. 14

Goldman Sachs shutters Global Alpha, once one of its largest hedge funds. What was an $11 billion portfolio in 2007 had shrunk to less than $1.7 billion, after years of poor performance and subsequent investor withdrawals.

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Sep. 17

A protest group sets up camp in Zuccotti Park. Occupy Wall Street will wake the left from a 40-year slumber.

longer view

A Curious Lag

mark greifRead

On September 17, 2011, three years after the financial crisis and the dawn of the Great Recession, there was every reason to believe that public attention to bank fraud, massive foreclosures, executive wealth, and middle-class debt had come to an end — if it had ever really begun. At a call for citizens to come “occupy” Wall Street in lower Manhattan, a small crowd showed up, promising to sleep over until they were heard. Through an accident of circumstance, the protesters were pushed from where they wanted to be — Chase Manhattan Plaza, by Wall Street — onto a pathetic, ugly square of paved “park,” Zuccotti, from which no one had the power to displace them. It was a technically private piece of land, which the owners had promised to keep open 24/7 to public use — part of a deal in the 1960s to build office space in violation of zoning restrictions, a perfect neoliberal remainder. While the city and the current owners bickered over who should eject the unwanted public, they built a library, a free canteen, a sleeping village, a drum corps, and a media center, and held a twice-daily town meeting to deliberate the running and political purpose of their Occupation. It was, more or less, a working model of real democracy, steps from where the Bill of Rights had been adopted, in the heart of the financialized fake Manhattan that had paved democracy over.

The sitting and talking of a few hundred, then many thousands, of people, in Manhattan and then at sites across the United States and Europe, for about two months accomplished several things. It pushed media, not very skillful with abstractions, to focus on long-known truths about the redistribution of wealth upward to the richest one percent. It reminded people of a very simple nonviolent technique to make a presence out of an absence — sit and sleep in a public place until someone asks you why you’re there; if no one asks, create democracy directly with the other people who show up. Most of all, it gave people someplace to go: It restored evanescent financial crimes and “social media” yips of protest to physical reality, to streets, and bodies, anchoring all the pictures and words.

It’s a historical puzzle why Occupy Wall Street — and, later, Black Lives Matter — erupted on the dates they did. Historians are obligated to use positive data: unemployment reports, foreclosure peaks, homicides eyewitnessed and livestreamed. But those of us who lived through it can insist on the importance of mood, of atmosphere, and of silence. There was the belief, at the election in 2008 and after, that even though Obama propped up the big banks in the Great Recession, he was going to save the rest of us, too. He would prosecute wrongdoers, at least, or halt foreclosures and fraud. When he didn’t, it took from 2008 to late 2011 for citizens to go squat on Wall Street — and in all the nation’s city centers — since no one else would speak for them. A three-year lag. And there was a belief in 2012 that Obama, in his second term, would now have the political safety to launch measures to save African-Americans specifically — to deliver the country from the era that threw people in jail for practically nothing and shot them for black skin and a justified fear of the cops. Obama didn’t. It took from the reelection to Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson in August 2014 for the strong impetus to be given to Black Lives Matter. A two-year lag. I don’t blame Obama — imagined once upon a time by many to be a prophetic president — for his resounding silence. Yet its curious effect was primarily to set the stage, through caution and blocked action, for an upsurge of genuine social movements that began from his absences. Perhaps the old community organizer knew that for a real democracy, citizens must do things for themselves.

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Revolt at Zuccotti Park. Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos
Sep. 29

The term “hashtag activism” is used for the first time, transforming sitting at your computer and complaining into a noble act.

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Oct. 5

Steve Jobs dies, and his passing is mourned with a fervor that rivals a president’s.

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Oct. 12

The emoji keyboard is introduced to iPhones, and eggplants are never viewed the same way again.

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Oct. 20

Qaddafi is killed, but Libya’s turmoil doesn’t end. In private, Obama calls it a “shit show.”

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nov. 3

Deals aggregator Groupon goes public; somehow, it is worth $12.65 billion. (Though a year later, its stock will be sold at an 87 percent discount.)

living it

Julie Mossler: Having Fun in the Groupon Froth

From the company's former head of global communications.Read

“I was one of the first 100 or 110 employees in 2009. That winter and going into 2010, we began raising rounds pretty quickly. Maybe in one round we raised $10 million, and then all of a sudden we raised $1 billion in one round. At one point, we were growing at 250 new people every two weeks in the Chicago office. So you would come in and not only would your desk be gone, but that entire wall would be missing. We did pranks for our own employees, just so they were excited to come to work every day. We had a room inside the office labeled ‘Michael’s Room,’ and the idea was that this employee or relative or child had somehow been trapped inside the middle of our office and had completely lost his mind, and there was not really an explanation, but rather a scavenger hunt, where employees could find all of these clues inside this room and then unlock the secret of Michael. One day, this girl came in named Phyllis, and she was very sweet and very quiet, and we hired two bodyguards to stand next to her desk for no reason and didn’t explain it to her. We got accustomed to things like that. The culture that it created was, if you didn’t come to work that day, it was like missing a day of high school. You were wondering what fun, crazy things happened. Every day we would share by email different success stories of merchants whose businesses we had saved. I remember there was one about us saving a zoo, where this woman had a llama farm and she was going out of business. We put her on Groupon, and suddenly she was booked for six months. When the tide turned and the meme was ‘Groupon is bad for businesses,’ the sentiment in the company was very much confusion: like, ‘Why don’t people understand that our intentions are good?’ ”

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Nov. 6

12,000 people show up at the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. It will take Obama four more years to finally reject it.

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dec. 17

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il dies, and scary North Korea gets scarier. His youngest son and Dennis Rodman fan Kim Jong Un is named Supreme Leader.

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dec. 18

The last American troops leave Iraq, though the trauma of war doesn’t easily leave them.

living it

Cherissa Jackson: The Battle in My Mind

A former Air Force combat nurse.Read

“I always thought when you go to war and different time zones and all this other stuff, that that was the reason why I wasn’t sleeping. I would wake up ina cold sweat and think: Oh, maybe I have a cold. At one point I thought: Oh, I’m going through early menopause, that’s exactly what it is. Oh my God, it was difficult for me to go into a crowd. I isolated myself. After I left work I stayed in my condo. I didn’t accept phone calls unless it was from my daughters. Total-shutdown mode. I was angry at everything. It could have been ants walking across my coffee table. I was angry because my dog Rocsi was wagging her tail.

Of course I was angry that — why was I chosen to go back the second time? I mean, you got me in 2005, then you sent me again in 2006? When I got home, I was back working in a hospital. You couldn’t get relief. For years, I thought I was doing well. I was still functioning as a mom. I had seen some of my other cohorts break under the pressure, and I was like, Oh, man, I’m doing good. Then, in 2012, my daughters were gone and I had nobody else to worry about. That’s when my symptoms just opened up, and all of those images, all of the smells, all of the thoughts that I thought I had kept away, came back like a tsunami.” —Cherissa Jackson, Former Air Force combat nurse

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Year 4

2012

Unemployment8.3%
Dow Jones12,397.38
GDP$16.16 TR.
Troops in Afghanistan88,200
Troops in Iraq11,445
Jan. 7

Blue Ivy Carter is born at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Her Illuminati induction ceremony comes a week later.

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Feb. 21

Feminist punks Pussy Riot, wearing neon tights and face masks, hold a punk prayer service in a church in Moscow — “Holy Mother, send Putin packing!” — and get thrown in jail for it.

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Feb. 26

Trayvon Martin, age 17, is killed by neighborhood-watch member George Zimmerman while returning from a convenience store in Sanford, Florida, where he was visiting his father. President Obama will later say, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Zimmerman, who claimed he fired at the unarmed Martin in self-defense,will be found not guilty in 2013.

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911 DISPATCHER: Are you following him?
ZIMMERMAN: Yeah.
DISPATCHER: Okay, we don’t need you to do that.
ZIMMERMAN: Okay.

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Mar. 7

“Pink slime” makes the evening news when ABC reports that this additive — waste trimmings, sanitized with ammonia, from multiple cows — is found in 70 percent of ground beef in supermarkets. Suddenly it seems nobody wants to eat anything.

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Mar. 23

The Hunger Games hits theaters, proving that today’s teens like their YA love triangles with a side of dystopic inhuman violence.

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Apr. 4

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton briefly becomes a badass when a Tumblr called Texts From Hillary turns a picture of her texting in black sunglasses while on a military plane en route to Tripoli into a meme. Later, her use of a BlackBerry will not seem so endearing.

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Photo: Kevin Lamarque/AP Photo
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Apr. 4

Facebook acquires Instagram for $1 billion, or about $80 million per employee.

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Apr. 15

Girls premieres, and millennials get pilloried.

Reading TV

Oh, to Be Young, Privileged, and Screwed

Molly FischerRead

Graduating from a liberal-arts college in 2010 meant finding yourself cast in a bleak comedy and realizing quickly that no one felt all that sorry for you. This was the situation of Hannah Horvath, protagonist of Girls: In the opening scene of the show’s 2012 premiere, we learn that Hannah has been out of ­college for two years; unable (or unmotivated) to find paid employment, she’s been interning around New York and trying to find her voice. She responds with frank disbelief to her parents’ announcement that they will no longer be funding her “groovy lifestyle.” This was not the situation of Girls creator and star Lena Dunham, who was, after all, a few years older and wiser than the character she was playing onscreen. She was also someone with an HBO series, as opposed to a self-involved intern with a half-finished manuscript. Still —­ probably because ­Hannah looked exactly like ­Dunham — the character seemed to haunt discussions of Dunham too.

From the beginning, the volume of analysis the show generated threatened to overwhelm the show itself. What did Girls mean for millennials? Why was the cast on the first season so white, and so populated by the children of famous people? And why did Horvarth/Dunham get naked so often — was it ­feminism or narcissism? Dunham went through the ringer of creating pop culture in the era of social media as few others had before: Girls gave her a platform just as more people than ever could publicly question who got such platforms, and why, and how they used them.

For all their much-critiqued privilege, though, Dunham’s characters led lives that were ­resolutely unalluring. Her storytelling remained interested in their experiences without ever ­making them look good. It had become fashionable to speak ­approvingly of “unlikable ­characters,” but the genius of Girls — set in the very unlikable milieu of hipster Brooklyn — was to find repellent human darkness not in someone who looked like James Gandolfini but in someone who looked like Allison Williams.

While Hannah muddled along in the same Greenpoint rental where we’d met her, Dunham started a newsletter, started a publishing imprint, started a podcast, wrote a book, campaigned for Hillary ­Clinton. “I think that I may be the voice of my generation,” said Hannah to her parents in the debut episode. “Or, at least, a voice, of a generation.” Dunham might not need that hedge.

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EXPOSED: Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath in season one of Girls.
Apr. 28

“Four years ago, I was locked in a brutal primary battle with Hillary Clinton. Four years later, she won’t stop drunk-texting me from Cartagena.” — Barack Obama, White House Correspondents' Dinner

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May 4

Google’s self-driving car passes Nevada’s road test. According to testing officials, it was “overly cautious approaching some lights,” possibly because streetlights are its distant relatives.

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May 9

The NYPD has been stopping and frisking 600 percent more people on the street since Mayor Bloomberg’s first year in office, according to a report released by the New York Civil Liberties Union. In 2011 alone, “the number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406). Ninety percent of young black and Latino men stopped were innocent.”

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Jun. 15

Undocumented kids are saved by Obama’s executive order DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which would put a halt to deportation for those who’d entered the country before age 16. And yet, in a bid to get the GOP to come over to his side on immigration reform, the president has also deported a record 1.5 million people in his first term.

LIVING IT

A Family Caught in Immigration Limbo

alexandra starrRead

When Belsy Garcia saw her mother’s number appear on her iPhone on the afternoon of June 15, she felt what she calls the “uncomfortable fluttering” sensation in her chest. She knew that daytime calls signaled an emergency. The worst one had come the previous year, when her sister told her ICE agents had placed their father in federal custody.

Garcia was attending Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, when her father was marched out of her childhood home. As an undocumented immigrant — like both of her parents, who are from Guatemala — she couldn’t qualify for loans. She financed her ­education through scholarships and a stipend she earned as a residential assistant. Now she wondered if her mother was calling to say her father had been deported, which might force her to leave school to become the family’s breadwinner.

But this call was different. “Go turn on the television,” Garcia’s mother said. “You’re going to be able to work, get a driver’s license.”

Onscreen, President Obama was announcing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the United States as children could apply for Social Security numbers and work permits. Garcia qualified: Her parents had brought her to this country when she was 7 years old. DACA transformed her into a premed student who could actually become a doctor. “It was like this weight was lifted,” she says. “All of that hard work was going to pay off.”

Today, Garcia is one of roughly 70 DACA students who have entered medical school in the U.S. since 2014 and is on track to graduate from Loyola ­University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine in 2019. That’s a tiny fraction of the 730,000 who receive DACA. And those hundreds of thousands of immigrants are outnumbered by the approximately 2.5 million former U.S. residents who have been deported from the country under President Obama.

The Garcia family has experienced the two extremes of Obama’s legacy on immigration. The daughter is poised to join the U.S. professional class. The father was caught up in a policy that has expelled almost as many immigrants as the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations combined.

At first, President Obama saw this as a necessary first step to immigration reform. “The idea was to show he would enforce immigration laws like no other Democratic president before him and build enough credibility with Republicans to pass legislation,” says Ted Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “They decided to sacrifice the thousands for the millions, if you will.” While the Obama administration said it was targeting immigrants with criminal records, long-term residents without a rap sheet were swept up. Garcia’s father, for example, had lived in the U.S. for two decades and never been arrested. He came to the attention of ICE agents after they combed through the personnel records at the carpet factory where he worked.

Garcia’s family hired an attorney, and her father was released a few days later. He is required to periodically check in with ICE authorities, however, and had to wear an ankle bracelet for several months. His deportation is still a live possibility.

There were moments during the Obama years when the Garcias thought they might be able to come out of the shadows, just like their daughter. After the 2012 election, the administration pushed hard for immigration reform; it passed the Senate but never received a vote in the House. In 2014, Obama tried to expand the DACA program to include undocumented parents of children who are citizens. (The Garcias would have qualified, because their youngest daughter was born in the U.S.) The Supreme Court deadlocked on its constitutionality this past June. Meanwhile, DACA — Obama’s biggest gift to the immigrant community — could end up being ephemeral. Congress didn’t pass legislation to enshrine it into law.

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Jun. 28

After it seemed nerve-rackingly likely that the Supreme Court — having taken up one of the law’s many challenges — would deliver Obamacare a deathblow, a surprise savior emerges in Chief Justice John Roberts. He’s persuaded by the administration’s argument that the law’s “fees” may in fact be considered a “tax.”

Donald Verrilli

A Tax Conservatives Might Like

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Donald Verrilli, Former solicitor general

“I felt an enormous sense of responsibility. It was a critical piece of the president’s legacy. But beyond that, once that law was enacted, and I was involved in the effort to preserve it, I would have one conversation after another after another with people out there in the country who would talk about how much it would mean to them and to their families to have access to health care that they’ve never had before. A man told me that he had a son with multiple sclerosis, and he and his wife were always worried that if something happened to them, and they no longer could use their health insurance to cover him, what would happen to their son? And now they could rest easy. I also felt extremely privileged to have the opportunity to play this role in history.

Some of the political folks in the White House were wary because it was in the spring of an election year — and their concern was that Obamacare could be parodied or tarred as just a big tax. But the president made a judgment back then that we ought to include an argument about the tax power, and he basically never looked back. When I became the solicitor general, I increased the focus and attention on the tax argument. It became a bigger part of our briefs. We argued it in more detail. We added some important precedents into the analysis, and we just gave it more emphasis, more oomph, in the Supreme Court, than when it was in the lower courts. And then when it got to oral argument, I thought it was very important to stress the tax power as an alternative ground of decision: because I thought it was narrower in scope, and therefore had a better chance of appealing to the votes of conservative justices who might view our arguments about the commerce powers as expanding the federal government’s authority unduly. It took a lot of work to get it on the table, but eventually I did. It was an example of trying to craft legal arguments in the recognition that in order to prevail, we needed to secure the votes of one or more justices who were jurisprudentially conservative and who were skeptical about the broad exercise of federal-government power.”

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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Jul. 16

Former president George W. Bush reveals his love of painting — particularly dogs and Texas — to a private group of civic leaders in Memphis (he also loves painting himself, naked, but that goes unmentioned). A year later, Romanian hacker Guccifer will exhibit some of Bush’s work to the world.

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Self-portraits by former president George W. Bush.
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Jul. 20

12 people are killed in a shooting at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado. Gun sales skyrocket after the attack.

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Aug. 11

A 16-year-old girl is raped in Steubenville, Ohio, and the assault is broadcast all over the internet.

Longer View

There Was No Looking Away Anymore

Noreen MaloneRead

The border of West Virginia and Ohio is full Appalachia, deep football country. It’s not where you might imagine the modern discussion around consent and privilege would have been jump-started, but that’s where it happened. At a Saturday-night Steubenville high-school party, in that hot part of August when the team is tired from two-a-days but everyone’s excited about the upcoming season, a 16-year-old girl, drunk past the point of consciousness, left with a group of football players for another party. In the back of the car and at that party, they pushed a penis in her mouth, forced their fingers inside her, ripped off her shirt. And they took photos and videos of it all, which made their way from texts to Twitter and to Facebook and soon to the national media. Rape accusations are often a he-said-she-said, but here was a moment in which the evidence wasn’t just self-collected, it was displayed like a trophy, by boys who didn’t seem to understand the awfulness of what they’d done. Things that are often easily swept under the rug — they’re just kids! Hormones and alcohol and all that! — were exposed for their full grotesque potential. With a video, you can’t say she was asking for it, that he was charging at the cop with a gun. And so we have all been forced to reckon with the idea that perhaps some of the stories we’d been telling ourselves about how our culture has evolved past certain horrible things aren’t true; that more of the stories victims are telling are. The footage replays through our minds the next time there’s a case without documentation. As for ­Steubenville, one of the boys was released from a juvenile-detention facility after nine months, the other after two years. They’re now in their 20s. The football team went undefeated last season.

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Aug. 20

Obama establishes a “red line” that the Assad regime in Syria cannot cross, saying in a press conference that if “we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” he would feel compelled to intervene in the country’s growing civil war.

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Aug. 29

Obama participates in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” declining to answer “Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?”

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Sept. 10

2009 Chicago teachers strike against “corporate school” reform.

Longer View

The Downward Slide of the Race to the Top

Elizabeth GreenRead

The strike lasted nine days, with tens of thousands of teachers and supporters flooding Chicago’s streets in bright-red shirts. Their target was the mayor’s agenda for school reform, itself a familiar mash-up of Obama-era education policy: tests so high stakes that poor performance could lead to shuttering a school altogether and a proliferation of charter schools, which receive taxpayer dollars while competing with traditional school districts. It was the same education agenda that had proliferated across the country since 2008. While Chicago teachers derided the programs as union busting and the privatization of public schools, earnest education reformers cast them as the new frontier in civil rights, the only way to guarantee poor black and Hispanic children the schools they’d been historically denied. If teachers and schools couldn’t do the job, they had to face consequences, and what other way to tell who was failing children than through tests? Undoubtedly, in the years that followed, the teachers have won the PR war. From Brooklyn to Baton Rouge, battalions of teachers and parents have since joined forces against so-called corporate school reform. Perhaps the only area of agreement among rural tea-partyers and gentrifying urban hipsters — both on their respective upswings in the 2000s — is the venality of the Obama-backed Common Core standards. If Obama lost public opinion, though, he and his supporters won the policy war. For all the red solidarity T-shirts, charter schools in urban areas continue to proliferate, traditional public schools continue to be closed, and standardized tests live on. The Common Core? You’ve heard the backlash, but the standards are active in 42 states.

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Sept. 11

Militants attack American compounds in Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. There will eventually be eight congressional probes into the incident.

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Sept. 12

Tinder launches, giving people a whole new set of ways to be dissatisfied while dating.

LONGER VIEW

A Video Game, With Sex

maureen o’connorRead

Once upon a time, a willingness to look for love online was considered a sign of insanity or desperation. Now? “Who prowls for sex in bars?” says Vogue.com sex columnist Karley Sciortino. “Like, how desperate are you?” The last time either of us went to a bar alone, we were waiting to meet a Tinder date.

But internet dating never really lost its stigma as a last recourse for loners and crazy perverts until it migrated from computers to phones and got rebranded as the kind of game you could play with friends at a bar. (Sort of like Erotic Photo Hunt, but with the possibility of actual sex.) If it’s acceptable to pretend your finger is a ninja sword as you swipe it across animations of flying fruits, then it’s acceptable to swipe for a date. On Tinder, profile pictures appeared as a deck of playing cards: Swipe top card off to the left to reject, swipe to the right to say “yes.” If that person swiped right on you, too, then his card would move to a new stack labeled “Matches.” A triumphant image would announce the mutual attraction, followed by two buttons. SEND MESSAGE, said one. KEEP PLAYING, said the other. And since playing “hot or not” with people you could actually meet is at least as fun as Fruit Ninja, you kept playing.

“The buttons below the stack are reminiscent of game-console buttons,” explains Tinder co-founder Jonathan Badeen, who will go down in history as the man who invented swiping right. (But not swiping left, which was clearly invented by Beyoncé in 2006 breakup ballad “Irreplaceable”: “To the left, to the left / Everything you own in a box to the left.”) “In fact, internally it’s common for us to refer to them as ‘game buttons’ and the overall screen as the ‘game view.’ ” Badeen compares the congratulatory “It’s a Match!” screen with the level-completion screen in Nintendo games, and routinely cites Disney’s 12 basic principles of animation to explain various design choices. “When you super like another user, the star flies out of the button and spins in an animation inspired by coin blocks in the Mario games.”

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Oct. 3

Obama tanks the first presidential debate.

David Axelrod

“I Know I Let Everybody Down”

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David Axelrod Chief strategist for Obama’s 2012 Lauren Tamaki

“Before the debate, David Plouffe and I went in to talk to him and give him a pep talk and he said, ‘Let’s just get this over with and get out of here,’ which is not what you want to hear from your candidate right before the debate. We knew within ten minutes that it was going to be a ­debacle. We had armed him with a joke — it was his 20th anniversary, and he addressed Michelle — and it turns out Romney was expecting just such a line and had a really great comeback. [‘I’m sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine: here with me.’] And Romney was excellent — just free and easy and clearly well prepared and showed personality that people hadn’t seen before. Obama looked like he was at a press conference.

We had a meeting at the White House and he said, ‘I know I let everybody down and that’s on me, and I’m not going to let that happen again,’ and that was his attitude. We always had debate camps before, where we’d re-create in hotel ballrooms what the set would look like, and all of the conditions of the real debate. When we went down to Williamsburg, Virginia, for the next debate camp, he seemed really eager to engage in the prep. We had a decent first night. That was on Saturday. On Sunday night, [John] Kerry, playing Romney, got a little more aggressive and Obama a little less so; it looked very much like what we had seen in Denver. It was like he’d taken a step back.

A few of us basically had an intervention the next morning, and he was very, very candid. He said, ‘Look, I’m trained as a lawyer, I approach these things in lawyerly ways, and I know that’s bad. It’s theater, and I have to accept that. I have to prepare in a different way.’ He talked about the movie Tin Cup, where Kevin Costner was all screwed up on his golf game, and Cheech from Cheech & Chong was the caddie and he says, ‘Well, here’s what you do, you wear your hat askew, and then you put a tee in your left pocket and then everything will be fine.’ And Costner then hits a drive straight through. The president said, ‘I’m like Kevin Costner in my head, and I’ve gotta straighten myself out.’ So we gave him a tee to put in his pocket before the next debate. After that conversation, he came back and just worked really hard, question by question. He did what he hates to do, which is to kind of script himself. And when we got up the next morning and we were getting ready to go, he had outlined 14 of the most likely questions on one sheet of paper, front and back, with his own notes of how he was going to handle it. When we went to see him in his locker room before the second debate at Hofstra University, he was sitting, and on the table was this sheet of paper. And the president said, ‘I feel good about where we are. We’re going to have a really good night,’ which was such a contrast with Denver. Again, we knew within the first ten minutes that he was right. He just completely absorbed what he wanted to do, and he nailed it.

It was really the first time that I worked closely with him that he experienced failure on a large stage. And it was interesting to me to watch him challenge himself to ensure that he wasn’t going to let that happen again. On the way to the third debate, when he was really very confident, he reflected on what happened in Denver and he said the hardest thing about it was traveling around after and seeing all these young volunteers who were keeping a stiff upper lip to encourage him. He said, ‘I wasn’t going to disappoint those kids, you know.’ ”

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Oct. 25

Twitter hits half a billion tweets a day. Donald Trump, responsible for probably a third of them, joined in March 2009.

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Oct. 29

Sandy makes landfall in New Jersey.

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Nov. 6

Washington State and Colorado vote to legalize marijuana. (Also: Obama is reelected with 51.1 percent of the vote.)

LONGER VIEW

Is This What Now Unites Us?

Andrew SullivanRead

In an era that began with the promise of a postpartisan country — a hilarious delusion, in ­retrospect — there were two areas of policy where Obama’s liberal incrementalism met Republican conservative pragmatism and forged a unifying synthesis. And oddly, these were two of the issues most associated with what was once an un­winnable culture war.

In 2009, no state allowed for the legal sale of weed. Now four do, and after November, another five could well join them. The number of states allowing medical marijuana has doubled, from 12 to 25. So has the percentage of adults who say they smoke marijuana, from 7 to 13 percent, just in the last three years alone. Over 60 percent of the country now ­supports legal weed, according to one poll — and 47 percent of Republicans do.

There’s a stark parallel with marriage equality. In the early 1970s, it was a tiny-minority position within a tiny minority. In the 1990s, when support for gay marriage was a mere 27 percent, a Democratic president signed the Defense of Marriage Act. When Obama became president, only two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, allowed same-sex couples to marry. But by 2011, that had increased to five, including Iowa. By 2013, it was 17. By 2014, it was 36 — and then, a year later, 50. Over 60 percent of the country now supports marriage equality — and 40 percent of Republicans do.

Why were these two issues different from all the others? Notably, Obama never openly campaigned for either. He pretended that his views were “evolving” on marriage, a transparent exercise in bullshit that nonetheless helped stymie a full-frontal Republican assault. He dismissed legalization of marijuana with a condescending chuckle in his reelection campaign. (This year, in a classic Obama straddle, his DEA continued to insist that cannabis remain a Schedule I drug — more dangerous than many of the addictive opioids devastating America — but simultaneously opened up marijuana research.) It’s also true that these questions were dealt with by the states, rather than by the federal government. That crucial element of federalism allowed Republicans to acquiesce in something they would otherwise ferociously oppose at a national level.

But most important, both issues could be seen as both conservative measures as well as liberal ones. Conservatives who believe in individual freedom already had one foot in the legal-weed camp, and those who had spent the previous few decades lauding the social benefits of civil marriage found it somewhat awkward to suddenly insist that those same values did not apply to gays. Neither measure required government itself to do much (or spend anything); government just had to get out of the way.

Support for both phenomena also transcended the usual demographic polarities. Marijuana use is the rare cultural phenomenon that unites urban blacks and southern whites, western hippies and southern good ol’ boys. And with gays, every family, red and blue, turns out to have them. And so sodomy and stoners did what Obama couldn’t all by himself: They helped create the pragmatic, constructive fusion that faltered in almost every other way and on almost every other issue.

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Nov. 12

The U.S. could become the world’s largest producer of oil by 2017, says the International Energy Agency, as a result of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

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Nov. 29

The fight for a $15 minimum wage kicks off when fast-food workers abandon their stations in New York to demand higher pay.

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Dec. 14

Adam Lanza, 20, opens fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 6- and 7-year-old children, six staff members, then himself.

Since Obama took office, 296 people have died in mass shootings.

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March 29, 2009, Carthage, NC Jerry Avant Jr. • Louise De Kler • Lillian Dunn • Tessie Garner • John Goldston • Bessie Hedrick • Margaret Johnson • Jesse Musser April 3, 2009, Binghamton, NY Parveen Ali • Almir O. Alves • Marc Henry Bernard • Maria Sonia Bernard • Li Guo • Lan Ho • Layla Khalil • Roberta “Bobbie” King • Jiang Ling • Hong Xiu “Amy” Marsland • Dolores Yigal • Hai Hong Zhong • Maria “Mima” Zobniw November 5, 2009, Fort Hood, TX Michael Grant Cahill • Libardo Eduardo Caraveo • Justin Decrow • John Gaffaney • Frederick Greene • Jason Dean Hunt • Amy Krueger • Aaron Thomas Nemelka • Michael Pearson • Russell Seager • Francheska Velez • Juanita L. Warman • Kham Xiong November 29, 2009, Parkland, WA Tina Delong-Griswold • Ronald “Ronnie” Owens II • Mark J. Renninger • Greg Richards August 3, 2010, Manchester, CT William Ackerman Jr. • Bryan Cirigliano • Francis J. Fazio Sr. • Louis Felder • Victor T. James • Edwin L. Kennison Jr. • Craig A. Pepin • Douglas Scruton January 8, 2011, Tucson, AZ Christina-Taylor Green • Dorothy “Dot” Morris • John M. Roll • Phyllis Schneck • Dorwan “Dory” Stoddard • Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman September 6, 2011, Carson City, NV Florence “Florrie” Donovan-Gunderson • Heath Austin Kelly • Miranda Mcelhiney • Christian D. Riege October 12, 2011, Seal Beach, CA Victoria Ann Buzzo • David Caouette • Laura Lee Webb Elody • Randy Lee Fannin • Michele Daschbach Fast • Michelle Marie Fournier • Lucia Bernice Kondas • Christy Lynn Wilson • February 22, 2012, Norcross, GA Kum Hui Paek Kang • Byong Ok Kang • Kum Sook Kim • Tae Yol Kim April 2, 2012, Oakland, CA Tshering Rinzing Bhutia • Doris Chibuko • Sonam Choedon • Grace Eunhea Kim • Katleen Ping • Judith Seymour • Lydia Sim May 30, 2012, Seattle, WA Joe “Vito” Albanese • Drew Keriakedes • Donald Largen • Kimberly Layfield • Gloria Janice Leonidas July 20, 2012, Aurora, CO Jonathan Blunk • Alexander “AJ” Boik • Jesse Evan Childress • Gordon Ware Cowden • Jessica Nicole Ghawi • John Thomas Larimer • Matthew Robert Mcquinn • Micayla C. Medek • Veronica Moser-Sullivan • Alex “Sully” Sullivan • Alexander Charles Teves • Rebecca Ann Wingo August 5, 2012, Oak Creek, WI Satwant Singh Kaleka • Paramjit Kaur • Suveg Singh Khattra • Prakash Singh • Ranjit Singh • Sita Singh September 27, 2012, Minneapolis, MN Keith V. Basinski • Jacob B. Beneke • Rami Cooks • Ronald Richard Edberg • Reuven Rahamim • Eric Rivers December 14, 2012, Newtown, CT Charlotte Helen Bacon • Daniel Gerard Barden • Rachel Marie D’avino • Olivia Rose Engel • Josephine Grace Gay • Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung • Dylan Christopher Jack Hockley • Madeleine F. Hsu • Catherine Violet Hubbard • Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski • Nancy J. Lanza • Jesse Mccord Lewis • Ana Grace Márquez-Greene • James “J” Radley Mattioli • Grace Audrey Mcdonnell • Anne Marie Murphy • Emilie Alice Parker • Jack Armistead Pinto • Noah Samuel Pozner • Caroline Phoebe Previdi • Jessica Adrienne Rekos • Avielle “Avie” Rose Richman • Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau • Mary J. Greene Sherlach • Victoria “Vicki” Leigh Soto • Benjamin Andrew Wheeler • Allison Noelle Wyatt March 13, 2013, Herkimer County, NY Harry M. Montgomery Sr. • Michael G. Ransear • Michael S. Renshaw • Thomas Edward Stefka April 21, 2013, Federal Way, WA Justine E. Baez • Bradley Fischer • Roland L. Scobee • Ceasar Anthony Valdovinos June 7, 2013, Santa Monica, CA Carlos Franco • Marcela Franco • Margarita Gomez • Christopher Zawahri • Samir Zawahri July 26, 2013, Hialeah, FL Carlos Javier Gavilanes • Merly Niebles • Priscilla Perez • Italo Pisciotti • Samira Pisciotti • Patricio Simono September 16, 2013, Washington, DC Michael Wells Arnold • Martin Bodrog • Arthur Daniels • Sylvia Frasier • Kathleen Gaarde • John Roger Johnson • Mary Frances Delorenzo Knight • Frank Kohler • Vishnu “Kisan” Bhalchandra Pandit • Kenneth Bernard Proctor Sr. • Gerald Read • Richard Michael Ridgell February 20, 2014, Alturas, CA Glenn Calonico • Rurik Davis • Angel Penn • Sheila Lynn Russo April 2, 2014, Fort Hood, TX Daniel “Danny” Michael Ferguson • Timothy Owens • Carlos Alberto Lazaney Rodriguez May 23, 2014, Isla Vista, CA George Chen • Katherine Breann Cooper • Cheng Yuan Hong • Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez • Weihan “David” Wang • Veronika Weiss October 24, 2014, Marysville, WA Shaylee “Shay” Adelle Chuckulnaskit • Andrew Martin Leroy Fryberg • Zoe Raine Galasso • Gia Christine Soriano May 3, 2015, Menasha, WI Adam John Bentdahl • Jonathan Stoffel • Oliva Mae Stoffel June 17, 2015, Charleston, SC Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton • Rev. Depayne V. Middleton Doctor • Cynthia Graham Hurd • Susie J. Jackson • Ethel W. Lance • Rev. Clementa Carlos Pinckney • Tywanza Sanders • Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. • Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson July 16, 2015, Chattanooga, TN Carson Allen Louis Holmquist • Randall Scott Smith • Thomas J. Sullivan • Squire “Skip” K. Wells • David Allen Wyatt October 1, 2015, Roseburg, OR Lucero Alcaraz • Treven Taylor Anspach • Rebecka Ann Carnes • Quinn Glen Cooper • Kim Saltmarsh Dietz • Lucas Kenneth Eibel • Jason Dale Johnson • Lawrence Levine • Sarena Dawn Moore October 31, 2015, Colorado Springs, CO Christina Rose Galella-Baccus • Andrew Alan Myers • Jennifer Michelle Vasquez November 27, 2015, Colorado Springs, CO Jennifer Yurie Markovsky • Ke’arre M. Stewart • Garrett Swasey December 2, 2015, San Bernardino, CA Robert Christian Adams • Bennetta Betbadal • Harry “Hal” A. Bowman • Sierra Clayborn • Juan Espinoza • Isaac Amanios Gebreslassie • Aurora Godoy • Shannon Hilliard Johnson • Larry Daniel Eugene Kaufman • Damian Lawrence Meins • Tin Nguyen • Nicholas Thalasinos • Yvette Alexandra Velasco • Michael Raymond Wetzel February 20, 2016, Kalamazoo, MI Dorothy “Judy” Brown • Barbara Ann Hawthorne • Mary Jo Nye • Mary Lou Nye • Richard “Jr” Eugene Smith Jr. • Tyler Daniel Smith February 25, 2016, Hesston, KS Renee Randall Benjamin • Josh Lee Higbee • Brian E. Sadowsky June 12, 2016, Orlando, FL Stanley Manolo Almodovar III• Amanda Alvear • Oscar A. Aracena-Montero • Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala • Antonio “Tony” Brown • Darryl Roman Burt II• Angel Luis Candelario-Padro • Luis Daniel Conde • Cory James Connell • Tevin Eugene Crosby • Anthony Luis Laureano Disla • Deonka “DeeDee” Deidra Drayton • Leroy Valentin Fernandez • Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez • Mercedez Marisol Flores • Peter Ommy Gonzalez-Cruz • Juan Ramon Guerrero • Paul Terrell Henry • Frank Hernandez • Miguel Angel Honorato Sr. • Jimmyde Jesús • Javier Jorge-Reyes • Jason Benjamin Josaphat • Eddie Jamoldroy Justice • Christopher “Drew” Andrew Leinonen • Alejandro Barrios Martinez • Juan Chavez Martinez • Brenda Lee Marquez Mccool • Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez • Kimberly “KJ” Morris • Akyra Monet Murray • Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo • Geraldo Ortiz-Jimenez • Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera • Joel Rayon Paniagua • Jean Carlos Mendez Perez • Enrique L. Rios Jr. • Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez • Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz • Xavier Emmanuel Serrano-Rosado • Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan • Edward “Eddie” Manuel Sotomayor Jr. • Shane Evan Tomlinson • Martin Benitez Torres • Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega • Juan P. Rivera Velazquez • Luis Sergio Vielma • Luis Daniel Wilson-leon • Jerald Arthur Wright July 7, 2016, Dallas, TX Lorne Bradley Ahrens • Michael Leslie Krol • Michael Joseph Smith • Brent Alan Thompson • Patricio “Patrick” E. Zamarripa July 17, 2016, Baton Rouge, LA Bradford “Brad” Allen Garafola • Matthew Lane Gerald • Montrell Lyle Jackson September 23, 2016, Burlington, WA Beatrice Dotson • Chuck Eagan • Belinda Galde • Sarai Lara • Shayla Martin

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Obama autographs a letter from child after unveiling new gun-control legislation. The bill will ultimately fail. Photo: Pete Souza/Courtesy of The White House
Year 5

2013

Unemployment8.0%
Dow Jones13,412.55
GDP$16.66 TR.
Troops in Afghanistan65,700
Troops in Iraq0
Feb. 1

Netflix releases all 13 episodes of House of Cards at once, further narcotizing the TV screen.

READING TV

Streaming Junkies

Adam SternberghRead

Binge-watching as a phenomenon is so closely associated with streaming television — specifically Netflix — that it’s easy to forget it started with a different technology: DVDs. The landmark pop-cultural depiction of binge-watching came in the Portlandia episode “One Moore Episode,” which aired in January 2012, in which a couple holed up for days with a DVD collection of Battlestar ­Galactica — chanting “Next one! Next one!” after the final episode — wind up near catatonic, unwashed, and unemployed. (The episode’s title is a pun on the name of Battlestar’s showrunner, Ronald Moore.)

But binge-watching as an alternate method of consuming culture truly came of age a year later, on February 1, 2013. That’s when Netflix made the bold decision to release all 13 episodes of its high-profile drama House of Cards at the same time. It made little sense — for starters, no one had seen even a single episode, so who, exactly, was clamoring for instant access to all 13? Not to mention that, while viewers no longer tended to watch everything at the same time, they did tend to gravitate to social media to buzz about their favorite episodes every week. How could anyone buzz when everyone is watching a different episode? The tactic seemed not only nonsensical but counterintuitive.

Instead, it was revolutionary. Netflix based the choice largely on internal data about how people watched old shows on Netflix. If you settled in for a season of Alias, you didn’t parcel it out week by week — you watched the episodes one after another until you were done. So why not offer the same option for a brand-new show? As often happens with technical innovation, creative repercussions followed. TV creators can now assume a different kind of attention from their audience. The way-before-its-time show Arrested Development, stuffed full of inside jokes and Easter eggs that thwarted weekly network audiences, turned out to be perfectly suited to the streaming environment. Netflix’s current programming philosophy is to treat a first season like an extended pilot, since there’s no imperative to lure viewers back week to week. Streaming has its negative creative consequences, too — there’s a reason the concept of “bingeing” has a bad cultural connotation. The coy weekly striptease of network TV now seems quaintly anachronistic, and TV as a whole feels less like an all-you-can-eat buffet of delights than like the overkill of the apocryphal Roman vomitoria. What’s clear, though, is that streaming is here to stay and may yet become the viewing method of choice. And what’s striking is that, in a cultural era characterized by a battle over our ever-more-­fractured attention, we proved so willing to hand over our attention in bulk.

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TESTED: Lance Armstrong submitting to drug testing. In 2013, he will admit on Oprah to doping during all seven of his Tour de France wins Photo: Elizabeth Kreutz
Mar. 11

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In hits bookstores, making the feminist case that women should be more aggressive and ambitious in their careers — and making feminists themselves very angry.

LONGER VIEW

The “Mommy Wars” Finally Flame Out

rebecca traisterRead

After decades of chilly backlash, we find ourselves, these past eight years, in an age of feminist resurgence, with feminist websites and publications and filmmakers and T-shirts and pop singers and male celebrities and best-selling authors and women’s soccer teams. Of course, as in every feminist golden age, there has also been dissent: furious clashes over the direction and quality of the discourse, especially as the movement has become increasingly trendy, shiny, and celebrity-backed.

Perhaps the most public feminist conflagration of the Obama years came at the nexus of policy and celebrity, of politics and pop power. It was the furor over Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who gave a viral 2010 TED Talk about women in the workplace who “leave before they leave” — who alter their professional strategy to accommodate a future they assume will be compromised by parenthood — which led to the publication of her 2013 feminist business manifesto, Lean In.

The book, which tackled the variety of social and psychological traps laid for women in the contemporary workplace, was an instant best seller. But the critical resistance, both to the (often misunderstood) messages Sandberg was sending and to her unlikely perch as a feminist spokesperson, was loud and fierce. Sandberg, many noted, was a wildly wealthy woman, and in urging women to reform themselves rather than the systems — from the gendered and racial pay gap to the lack of paid leave and subsidized child care — that left them with less power than their male counterparts, she was simply adding to the pressures they faced, blaming them in some way for their own inequitable predicament.

“Although couched in terms of encouragement,” wrote Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department official and CEO of the New America Foundation, in an Atlantic cover story provocatively titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and illustrated with a sad white baby in a mommy briefcase, “Sandberg’s exhortation contains more than a note of reproach. We who have made it to the top, or are striving to get there, are essentially saying to the women in the generation behind us: ‘What’s the matter with you?’ ”

USA Today’s cartoonish review of Lean In was headlined “The New Mommy Wars,” and that about summed it up. Here was the final crescendo of a silly, fake battle that had stood in for feminist progress for decades: Their workforce participation unsupported by American economic policy, the primacy of their domestic responsibilities unquestioned by society, women had turned in frustration on each other, judging other women’s varied strategies for playing on this uneven playing field, for balancing the unwieldy burdens of work and family.

In fact, Sandberg’s book did acknowledge structural disadvantages faced by women, but chose instead to address other systemic patterns of sexism: a world in which women are socialized from a young age not to be ambitious or confident or to advocate for themselves. But to skeptics, the danger was that Lean In feminism would eclipse a movement for bigger alterations to our social and economic policies. In The New Republic, Judith Shulevitz opined, “We’re still talking about mentors, glass ceilings and the impossibility or desirability of having it all. What we are not talking about in nearly enough detail, or agitating for with enough passion, are the government policies, such as mandatory paid maternity leave, that would truly equalize opportunity. We are still thinking individually, not collectively.”

But a funny thing happened while feminists were yelling at each other about Sheryl Sandberg: The United States started to make big, swift strides on economic policies favorable to women and families. Activists, lawyers, economists, and politicians who had for decades been (you’ll pardon me here) leaning in to systemic policy fights began to win some of those fights. Since 2002, five states — including New York in 2016 — have passed paid-family-leave bills, with campaigns active in 20 more states. In 2013, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro proposed the family Act, a federal paid-family-leave proposal. In 2015, Barack Obama talked about federally mandating paid leave in his State of the Union address and established paid sick leave for federal workers. The same year, California congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced the EACH Woman Act, which would override the Hyde Amendment (which prevents poor women from accessing abortions) through federal insurance programs including Medicaid. And in this election, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supports paid sick leave, paid family leave, subsidized child care, and higher wages for child-caregivers, more-affordable education, expansion of the health-care system, a higher minimum wage, free community college, and the abolishment of Hyde. We have, as they say, come a long way, baby.

No, Sheryl Sandberg isn’t responsible for the leaping, thrilling advances in feminist economic policy over the past eight years, any more than Clinton or Obama or Bernie Sanders is, individually. But neither did her brand of feminism get in the way of those advances, as many seemed to fear it would. Perhaps it would even be fair to argue that the amplification of these discussions — thanks to Sandberg and, yes, her many critics — has helped to raise the volume and awareness of gendered inequities enough that we have managed to move forward faster than we thought possible.

It’s a lesson of the Obama era: One approach to redressing inequality does not have to blot out the others. Sometimes, attacking from all angles is the most effective strategy.

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Mar. 13

Two weeks after Benedict XVI becomes the first pope to resign from the post in seven centuries, white smoke spews from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. The first-ever Jesuit pope, Argentine archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, adopts the papal name Francis, modeling his reign on the down-to-Earth ethos of that saint. Directly upon elevation, he returns to his hotel to settle the bill.

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Apr. 9

AQI declares its absorption of an Al Qaeda–backed militant group in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the al-Nusra Front. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi says that his group will now be known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL).

On Their Beat

Rukmini Callimachi: Al Qaeda to Isis

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Rukmini Callimachi Correspondent for the New York Times focusing on Al Qaeda and ISIS

“Let me take you back before the rise of ISIS to May 2, 2011. That’s the day when Osama bin Laden is killed in his hideout in Abbottabad, in Pakistan. The message that came out of Washington at that time is that Al Qaeda had been decapitated, that the group was on the run, that whatever was left of it were these isolated cells. At that point I was based in North Africa. I was just about to become a bureau chief for the AP. The thing that was transformative for me was that in Timbuktu, in Mali, in a building that had been occupied by the jihadists, I was able to retrieve some of the pages of documents that they had left behind after the French pushed them back in 2013. Those documents were eye-opening. They showed very clearly that this branch of Al Qaeda that some people at that point didn’t even consider a real branch of Al Qaeda was in fact in such close contact with the Al Qaeda core that there was a letter to a commander, reprimanding him because he had negotiated the ransom himself for a Canadian hostage. Basically the letter said, “Because you’re stubborn and a prima donna and you decided to go at it alone instead of consulting our brothers in [Afghanistan and Pakistan], you’ve got just the meager sum” — that’s literally what they said, “the meager sum” — “of €700,000.” And so suddenly you see that, wait a second, for something as mundane as a hostage negotiation, which they were doing on a large scale back then, they were actually in touch with Al Qaeda’s core. That to me was the first moment when I went, Oh, okay. Just as the administration pulled the wool over our eyes during the lead-up to the Iraq War, where intelligence was politicized for a specific purpose, so too under a different administration, a Democratic one, it was very important to present bin Laden’s death in 2011 as the decapitation of the monster. I realized that I needed to very much question what was coming out of Washington.

Around the summer of 2013, I started to realize that ISIS was the next big thing. Because the jihadists in Mali who I’d been in touch with and who wreaked havoc in Mali were telling me that they were leaving Africa to go to Syria to join ISIS. I kept on pushing them: “Why ISIS?” And they actually couldn’t explain — they were basically so excited by the propaganda that they were putting out, the fact that it had a democratic air where you could show up and very quickly become a jihadi, whereas Al Qaeda was very much more of a stodgy, hierarchical structure. The way these people would just light up when they were talking about it, you know, you felt like when you imagine a girl lighting up when she first sees Elvis or something.”

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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Apr. 15

Two pressure-cooker bombs planted by brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev explode near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 264.

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Apr. 27

“I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012, but one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. And look, call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they could start with. Hello? Think of me as a trial run, you know? See how it goes.” — Barack Obama, White House Correspondents’ Dinner

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Apr. 30

Inside Amy Schumer premieres

Reading TV

“I Say If I’m Beautiful”

Noreen MaloneRead

Amy Schumer became an official Saint of the Internet on the evening her sketch “Last Fuckable Day” aired on Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer. In the grand tradition of dark fairy tales, an innocent Schumer wanders into the woods, where she happens upon something alarming: Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, seated at a table strewed with breadbaskets and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, clinking wineglasses to celebrate the end of Louis-Dreyfus’s run as a sex symbol. “In every actress’s life, the media decides when you finally reach the point where you’re not believably fuckable any more,” the then 54-year-old explains to a confused-looking Schumer. The skit spirals outward in ever more fantastical directions — all three read for the part of Mrs. Claus, but J.Lo snagged it! Bruce Willis’ new fiancée is so young that she’s actually a baby lamb! — that manage to get at something the audience recognizes as both true, and outrageous: A harsh double standard exists for men and women when it comes to desirability.

Schumer and “Last Fuckable Day” were swiftly beatified. Vanity Fair ran an oral history of the sketch. (“Think about the courage those three displayed, just by being in that sketch. But that’s what makes it work.”) A.V. Club declared Schumer to be “a comic working at the peak of her powers” in “a powerhouse episode, with explicitly feminist cultural critique.” Vulture celebrated the “true bad-bitch behavior” on display. It was hardly the first or the last time Schumer went viral with a feminist conceit: There was the time she skewered the difficulty women have in accepting compliments, the sketch about a link between football and rape, the send-up of male-gaze rap videos, and many more. She became the walking embodiment of self-actualization feminism, circa 2015; that role became as important, or even more important, than her jokes. (The jokes themselves, if you look a little closer, have a complicated, fairly specific relationship to the female experience. “Last Fuckable Day,” for instance, ruthlessly mocks the Real Housewives, whose attempts at stopping the aging process, the skit posits, have made their faces look like purses that have melted in a car accident.) “I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will,” she said at an awards gala hosted by the Ms. Foundation. “I’m probably, like, 160 pounds right now, and I can catch a dick anytime I want,” she announced while accepting a Glamour UK Women of the Year award. It became impossible for Amy Schumer to walk outside in sweatpants without its being labeled empowering.

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May 18

Like homosexuality in 1974, transgenderism is de-pathologized with the American Psychiatric Association’s release of DSM-5, which also removes Asperger’s as a distinct diagnosis but introduces hoarding, binge-eating, and caffeine withdrawal.

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May 23

Obama announces a shift in drone policy at an address to the National Defense University.

Barack Obama:

“I Don’t Ever Want to Get to the Point Where We’re That Comfortable With Killing”

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“I never made the claim that I was a pacifist. The speech where I announced my opposition to Iraq, the key tagline was ‘I’m not opposed to all war. I’m opposed to dumb wars.’ I was very explicit about the fact that there are times where we need to deploy our military to protect American interests and the American people. But we should be wise and restrained in how we use that power.

I don’t ever want to get to the point where we’re that comfortable with killing. It’s not why I wanted to be president. But do I think the critiques from the left, about drones, are fair or fully informed? Not always. Sometimes they are. Much of the time, they’re not. People don’t always recognize the degree to which the civilian-casualty rate, or the rate at which innocents are killed in precision strikes, is significantly lower than what happens in a conventional war.

With bin Laden, we had the option — the less risky option — of just firing a missile into that compound. I made the decision not to do so primarily because I thought it was important, if in fact it was him, that we be able to identify him. But depending on how you define innocents, a couple people in that compound that were not bin Laden and might be considered innocent, including one of his wives, were killed. As a percentage, that could be counted as collateral damage that might have been higher than if we had just taken a shot when we knew that the compound was relatively empty.

The critique of drones has been important, because it has ensured that you don’t have this institutional comfort and inertia with what looks like a pretty antiseptic way of disposing of enemies. I will say, though, that what prompted a lot of the internal reforms we put in place had less to do with what the left or Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International or other organizations were saying and had more to do with me looking at the way in which the number of drone strikes was going up and the routineness with which, early in my presidency, you were seeing DOD and CIA and our intelligence teams think about this. It troubled me, because I think you could see, over the horizon, a situation which, without Congress showing much interest in restraining actions, you end up with a president who can carry on perpetual wars all over the world, a lot of them covert, without any accountability or democratic debate.

That’s what led to the policy I announced at the National Defense University to start constructing greater transparency, an internal mechanism to scrub decisions. And that work has continued over the course of years now, such that this year, for example, after a lot of interagency wrestling, we were able to start our estimates of civilians who may have been killed by some of these actions. That’s a legacy that I care a lot about. It’s not a legacy that is going to score a lot of political points. It’s imperfect, because there genuinely are some institutional restraints. We can’t advertise everything that we’re doing without inhibiting our effectiveness in protecting the American people. But by the time I leave here, the American people are going to have a better sense of what their president is doing. Their president is going to have to be more accountable than he or she otherwise would have been. The world, I think, will have a better sense of what we’re trying to do and what we stand for. And I think all of that will serve the American people well in the future.

A theme that’s continued throughout my presidency was the degree to which Republican critics could be on every side of every issue, depending on what decisions I had made. So if I was initiating military action, then the criticism was ‘This was irresponsible’ or ‘Why’d you do it this way?’ If you didn’t, ‘you’re weak.’ So much so that at a certain point the whole foreign-policy debate in this town got so scrambled that in some ways it was liberating for me. You start realizing, at a certain point, well, folks aren’t even trying to be consistent. They’re not even trying to be fair-minded in their assessments or recommendations. In which case the best thing for me to do is to try to figure out what the right thing to do is and just do it, and worry later about how Washington is grading me. And that was a valuable lesson. It was a valuable lesson in two ways. One, because it taught me to trust my judgment. Two, it taught me that I had to be self-critical and build a structure for effective, constructive criticism of decisions I might make and make sure all viewpoints were heard, because frankly, I just couldn’t trust the noise out there. And if you examined a bunch of the decisions that we made subsequently, whether it was the decision to be part of the international coalition to stop Qaddafi from killing his own people, the decision to go after bin Laden, but most prominently I think the decisions around Syria after Assad used chemical weapons, in these various decisions part of what I tried to institutionalize is a really rigorous process internally, but an insistence than I’m not going to simply accept whatever the playbook was here in Washington, in part because it was often incoherent. You take the case of Syria, which has been chewed on a lot. But it continues to puzzle me, the degree to which people seem to forget that we actually got the chemical weapons out of Syria. The notion seems to be that ‘well, you should have blown something up, even if that didn’t mean that you got chemicals weapons out.’ There continues to be, I think, a lack of examination of the fact that my decision was not to let Assad do whatever he wanted. My decision was to see if we could broker a deal without a strike to get those chemical weapons out, and to go to Congress to ask for authorization, because nowhere has Congress been more incoherent than when it comes to the powers I have. You had people, I think, like Marco Rubio, who was complaining about us not doing anything, and when I said, ‘I’m gonna present to Congress,’ suddenly he said, ‘Well, I’m gonna vote against it.’ Maybe it was Ted Cruz. Maybe both. They’re all over the map. The primary principle — and this is not true for all of them, but for many of them — was, ‘Just make sure that we don’t get blamed for whatever decision you make.’ ”

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Jun. 5

The Guardian publishes the first article based on leaked documents by an anonymous government employee. A subsequent article exposes PRISM, a clandestine surveillance program that gives the NSA direct access to internet companies’ user data. On June 9, the whistle-blower reveals his identity to the public: 29-year-old NSA contractor Edward Snowden. “Truth is coming,” he later declares, “and it cannot be stopped.

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Jun. 11

“I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period.” — Kanye West, in the New York Times

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Jun. 25

The Supreme Court strikes down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which established a formula for determining which states and local governments needed federal approval before changing their voting laws. The court argues that the conditions that necessitated its implementation — voting tests, disparities in voter registration, and low turnout correlated to race — no longer exist.

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Jun. 25

Texas state senator Wendy Davis laces up her pink running shoes and spends ten long hours attempting to filibuster a bill that would’ve imposed statewide abortion restrictions. (It eventually passes anyway.)

Wendy Davis

“When I Got Mad, Time Just Flew”

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Wendy Davis Former Texas state senator

“I don’t think I really understood how difficult physically it would be. A doctor inserted a catheter that morning. I had a real scare. After an hour, I started getting really uncomfortable. I realized nothing was draining into the bag. Literally minutes before I was supposed to be on the floor, the nurse practitioner came in and realized there was a stopper in the tube. As soon as she removed it, everything was fine.

What was different on that day was that for the first time ever, the Texas Tribune had been granted [the right] to use its technology to livestream from the Senate floor. I did not know people were watching to the extent that they were, not even close. I expected the gallery to be full, but I could hear them out on the lawn, I could hear them roar in the halls and in the rotunda, and from time to time I could literally feel the vibration of their voices beneath my feet on the Senate floor.

My Republican colleagues were going to treat this filibuster very differently. In the past, there has been a lot of leeway — senators can read names out of the phone book under the idea that everyone will be affected by the bill. When I realized that wouldn’t be the case for me was when the very first strike was called on a germaneness argument; that was really absurd. And then I knew that they had plotted to call three strikes — that they were going to do everything they could to bring it to an end. My back was hurting, and I got another strike when a colleague helped me put a back brace on. But then I started getting mad, and when I got mad it was really great, because it kept me sharp and then time just flew, it really did.

There was a point in the day when my staff was worried we’d run out of stories to read, so they put out a call on social media asking for more. Within a few hours we received 16,000 stories. The hardest part of the day, for me, was when I came to a story from a woman named Carol M. I felt as though I was reading my own story. She and her husband discovered that the child she was carrying suffered from a severe fetal abnormality, and ultimately they made the decision they felt was in the best interest of this baby that they loved and had wanted very, very much. I couldn’t help but cry as I read it.

At around 10:15 or so, the final, third strike was called — again, absurdly. But then my Democratic Senate colleagues began to argue points of order, masterfully eating up the clock. Finally, at about a quarter till, the filibuster was officially called to an end. At that point my sister, [then-]Senator Leticia Van de Putte, who was not expected to be in the Senate that day — she had just buried her father — but made a decision to drive the one and a half hours to the capitol, came in. She immediately sized up what was going on and of course became very upset. So she was shouting to be heard, and when she was finally recognized, she had the most perfect, poignant question. She said: “[Mr. President], at what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?” That was the spark that lit the fire under the thousands of people who had been gathered. They’d watched the rules being trampled on all day. Their upset spilled out in that moment. They rose up and they erupted in the most beautiful, loud example of public democracy that I’ve ever seen. They were screaming at the top of their lungs, in the hallways, in the rotunda, and outside on the capitol lawn.”

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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Jun. 26

The Supreme Court knocks down Proposition 8 in California, paving the way for the broad legalization of same-sex marriage.

Donald Verrilli

“The Concept of Dignity Really Matters”

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“I was given an enormous degree of latitude. I did communicate with the White House counsel on occasion about high-profile cases, but it was much more in the nature of just giving them a heads-up, to calm any nervous feelings they might have. There’s only one exception to that, and it was on marriage equality, in the Hollingsworth v. Perry case in 2013. We were contemplating coming in and arguing that it was unconstitutional for California to refuse to recognize the legal validity of same-sex marriages. But we didn’t have to do it [because the government was not a party]. And because it was a discretionary judgment, and it was such a consequential step, that was the one matter where I really sought out the president’s personal guidance. I wanted to make sure the president had a chance to thoroughly consider what we should do before we did it. It was really one of the high points of my tenure. It was a wide-ranging conversation about doctrinal analysis, about where society was now, about social change and whether it should go through the courts or through the majoritarian process, about the pace of social change, about the significance of the right at stake. He was incredibly impressive.

We made the judgment to take a position on marriage equality, and the position we took two years later in the Obergefell v. Hodges case followed from that. If you read both briefs, you’ll see that they’re about 80 percent the same. We ground both our arguments in this concept of equal dignity under the Equal Protection Clause. The difference is that in Perry, we were trying to offer the court a stepping-stone on the way to full marriage equality — because of a concern that the court might not be ready yet, in 2013, to take the step all the way. So we took an intermediate position: that in states that already recognized domestic partnerships, there was no valid justification left for denying marriage equality.

This is a place where the concept of dignity really matters. It’s the idea that the government is saying to you, ‘You’re not equal. Your relationships don’t count in the way other people’s relationships do.’ You’ll see this in our brief: We tried to make a very strong doctrinal argument rooted in the Equal Protection Clause, but we tried to infuse it with an appreciation and understanding of what our society is like now, and how incongruous it is to say that gay and lesbian people can live openly as couples in society, and raise children, and go to PTA meetings and everything else, and yet be denied marriage equality.”

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Jun. 25

Obama announces his Climate Action Plan, which helps make up for Congress’s failure to pass a cap-and-trade bill by using his executive powers to force reductions in emissions from power plants. He tells a group of students, “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

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Jul. 3

Egyptian general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi topples Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president in modern Egyptian history. And the original promise of the Arab Spring grows ever more cloudy.

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Jul. 11

The first Sharknado airs. Audiences live-tweet it to distract themselves from the inexorable pull of death.

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Aug. 25

Miley Cyrus twerks at the MTV VMAs, setting off a controversy about cultural appropriation that soon ensnares seemingly every white pop star on the planet.

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• Karlie Kloss wears a Native American headdress and fringed bra at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

• Justin Timberlake is accused of appropriating black music when he tells a black critic “We are the same” after praising Jesse Williams’s BET Humanitarian Award speech about race and police brutality.

• Johnny Depp plays Tonto in The Lone Ranger.

• Lady Gaga sexualizes burkas in her track “Aura.”

• Katy Perry performs as a geisha at the AMAs.

• Iggy Azalea gets accused of singing in “verbal blackface.”

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Aug. 31

Obama backs away from his red line on Syria.

LONGER VIEW

Syria: Weakness or Wisdom?

Robert F. WorthRead

By one common reckoning, Barack Obama’s handling of the Syrian civil war will go down as the worst black mark on his record. His most ardent admirers and nemeses alike invoke the now-familiar litany: 400,000 dead and nearly 5 million refugees, whose flight northward has shaken the European Union and may yet sink it. They cite the snuff-film horrors of ISIS and its remorseless spread around the globe. They decry the suffering of Aleppo, the ancient market town where civilians continue to die under Assad’s bombs. And they pointedly compare it with Sarajevo, where similar war crimes came to an end during the 1990s thanks to American power. Obama’s own secretary of State, John Kerry, seemed in June 2016 to quietly endorse the dissenting memo signed by 51 U.S. diplomats urging stronger action on Syria.

This verdict isn’t entirely fair. Syria’s war arose from its own soil, not from Western meddling or the lack of it. Obama’s cautiousness may well have saved us from being drawn into a hurricane that will only get worse. But even his most loyal defenders concede that he was too slow to make up his mind about Syria. He seemed almost to resent it — as if the conflict were, like the American project in Iraq, an unwanted inheritance from his predecessor. And in fact, his impatience to get free of Iraq played a role in spawning the Syrian nightmare. As the U.S. military withdrew in late 2011, Obama’s failed push for a residual U.S. force there, leaving Iraq more vulnerable to sectarian purges and the gutting of its military leadership, contributed materially to the rise of isis.

Obama first took a stand on Syria’s uprising in August 2011, declaring that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” With two Arab leaders already evicted by popular movements and protests engulfing Syria, those words seemed cost-free.

But Syria was different. Decades of minority rule had built up enormous pressures, and the regime was more cunning and better prepared than those that fell in the Arab Spring.

By late 2012, some members of Obama’s Cabinet, including Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, were backing a proposal to arm the Syrian rebels. Obama resisted but, after a round of strong lobbying by Israel and Jordan, eventually signed a secret order for the CIA to arm and train rebel groups.

Obama continued to send mixed signals for more than a year. It was not until late August 2013 that events finally focused his mind. A poison-gas attack near Damascus left hundreds of Syrian civilians dead. This seemed to be a clear crossing of the “red line” against the use of chemical weapons Obama had unwisely declared a year earlier, and he ordered the Pentagon to prepare for military action. But then, with his finger on the trigger, he backed away under the guise of seeking authorization from a Congress he knew to be opposed. To some heads of state in the Middle East and even in Europe, Obama’s decision to call off airstrikes was a shocking betrayal of America’s global role, an abandonment of Syria’s suffering masses. To domestic critics, including some in his own administration, it was an embarrassing flip-flop that would surely embolden dictators the world over. Obama, of course, claimed vindication after his reversal led to a deus ex machina deal with Russia to eradicate Syria’s large chemical-weapons arsenal. The deal was in fact an important achievement, one of the war’s few bright spots. But most observers agree that it came about largely through luck.

In the years since, the Syrian war has continued to absorb new players and damage everything in its path. The Obama administration is in deeper, though only to fight isis. The Russians are fighting for Assad, the Turks against him; the Kurds are in the middle. Obama’s reluctance to touch this maelstrom may someday look like wisdom. One of his favorite foreign leaders, Angela Merkel, has shared his concerns about intervention all along. But she has balanced her wariness with a much more generous embrace of Syrian refugees. It is not too late for him to follow her example.

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Sep. 3

Income inequality in the U.S. reaches its highest levels since 1928.

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Oct. 1

The first federal-government shutdown in two decades begins, after Congress fails to pass legislation lifting the debt ceiling. By mid-month, with the U.S. credit rating at risk, the GOP will relent. “We’ve got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis,” warns Obama.

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Oct. 3

Snapchat introduces Stories.

Five Snaps That Will Make National NewsRead

• Kim Kardashian burns Taylor Swift by playing audio that confirms she approved the The Life of Pablo track dis by Kanye that she’d publicly condemned.

• DJ Khaled gets lost on Jet Ski, snaps the whole time.

Two UW-Madison students snap their meet-cute as the entire student body cheers them on.

Playboy Playmate Dani Mathers films and mocks an anonymous woman in the gym shower.

A Massachusetts teen records the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl. The video is later seen by a friend of the victim.

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Nov. 22

The only Wall Street executive to be prosecuted in the wake of the Great Recession, Kareem Serageldin, formerly of Credit Suisse, is sentenced to 30 months in prison. The judge calls his crime “a small piece of an overall evil climate within the bank and with many other banks.”

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Dec. 1

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reveals plans for “Amazon Prime Air,” promising customers that drones will one day assist them with their impulse buys and upping the ante for skeet shooters everywhere.

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Dec. 5

After stern warnings from the FDA, 23andMe, a company that provides custom genetic information using a spit test, ceases providing personalized health information based on the test.

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Dec. 10

Obama shakes Raúl Castro’s hand at Nelson Mandela’s funeral and shakes up decades of Cold War policy.

Barack Obama:

“The Cubans Responded in a Way That Maybe I Didn't Expect”

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“The handshake played no role in my strategic decision to change our relationship with Cuba. Remember, my first so-called gaffe as a presidential candidate was saying I would meet with the Castros or anybody else if I thought it served American interests, and I was roundly condemned as being naïve. I still remember right after that debate, as the critiques were coming in, getting on a conference call with my entire communications team and saying, ‘Do not budge. I meant what I said. If you guys need guidance on why I said what I said, I’m happy to provide it to you. But this was not a gaffe.’

So I’d come in with the premise that not being in a dialogue with somebody is not punishment to them and oftentimes leads them into a position where they can ignore our position and hurts us in building international coalitions to pressure countries that are doing bad things. And here’s been a general rule of my presidency: I think normal human responses, basic courtesy, are not checked at the door when you become president. I’d already shaken hands with Hugo Chávez when I was at my first Summit of the Americas. And I had, I think, shown that I could hold my own in the Cuban-American community with a stance that said, ‘If you’ve tried to do something for 50 years and it doesn’t work, you should try something else,’ particularly among the younger generation of Cuban-Americans.

Second term comes and I went through an exercise with my National Security team saying, ‘Here are the things we know we have to do: counterterrorism, Iran. Where are there opportunities to think big?’ Examining relations with Cuba was near the top of the list. So I had already assigned our team to start exploring what that might look like and how we might structure it.

Mandela dies and I’m asked to speak. And frankly, I’m not sure we had even prepped for Castro being on the stage. It wasn’t the most rigidly organized event that I’ve ever attended. And then it started late and it was pouring rain and security issues were a challenge. By the time we get there, it’s already pretty messy. And everybody’s just concerned about getting me onstage and getting me speaking. And so the handshake with Castro was actually pretty spontaneous. I walk up and there’s this older guy and I say, Oh, I think that’s Raúl Castro. But I’m going through this phalanx of leaders who are on the stage — Prime Minister Singh of India, a number of other folks. For me not to shake his hand would have been an inappropriate gesture at a funeral.

So I shook his hand. I didn’t consider it to be some momentous gesture. It was me shaking the hand of an older man who was sitting on the stage when I was doing a eulogy. But the Cubans responded in a way that maybe I didn’t expect. At that point we had already begun to have some contact with the Cuban government and were thinking about what might happen. They interpreted that handshake and my willingness to do that on the world stage as a signal of greater seriousness. And so it did, I think, facilitate the series of negotiations that took place.”

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Year 6

2014

Unemployment6.6%
Dow Jones16,441.35
GDP$17.35 TR.
Troops in Afghanistan33,200
Troops in Iraq0
Jan. 1

Bill de Blasio succeeds Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York City, a former Sandinista replacing a former plutocrat on the strength of his “Tale of Two Cities” economic-inequality campaign.

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Jan. 27

Commenting on ISIS, Obama says something he will come to regret: “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.

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Feb. 3

Janet Yellen is sworn in as chair of the Federal Reserve (a.k.a. the most powerful person in the world).

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Feb. 26

31 women file federal sexual-assault complaints against UC Berkeley; in the next months, the Department of Education will open sexual-assault Title IX investigations into Harvard, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and 52 other schools.

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Feb. 28

Russia flexes its muscle, invades Crimea.

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Mar. 4

Obama is deemed the “deporter-in-chief by the head of America’s largest Latino-advocacy organization, the National Council of La Raza. By his sixth year in office, Obama had overseen more than 2 million removals, more than George W. Bush’s eight-year total.

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DEPORTED: Immigration detainees board flight back to Honduras. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
Mar. 7

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappears, immediately becomes an existential parable in an age of universal GPS (and never-ending fodder for conspiracy theorists).

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Mar. 11

Obama goes on Between Two Ferns, Zach Galifianakis’s absurdist-deadpan web series, establishing his hipster-comedy bona fides (and creating a 40 percent spike in traffic to healthcare.gov).

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Mar. 25

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announce their “conscious uncoupling” — like many things Paltrow, it makes her first a punch line and then a kind of bougie aspirational prophet.

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Apr. 14

276 girls are abducted by Nigeria’s Boko Haram, another nihilistic foe in a world that is beginning to seem quite crowded with them.

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Apr. 15

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century arrives in English and quickly makes its author a weird post-Occupy celebrity, the Harold Bloom of income inequality. Within six days, it is sold out on Amazon, where it’s the No. 1 best seller.

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May 3

“Colorado legalized marijuana this year, an interesting social experiment. I do hope it doesn’t lead to a whole lot of paranoid people who think that the federal government is out to get them and listening to their phone calls.” —Barack Obama, White House Correspondents’ Dinner

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May 31

The New York Times reveals the NSA is collecting millions of images from photo-ID databases, webcams, and possibly even Facebook “for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs.”

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Jun.10

Eric Cantor’s stunning primary loss suggests no politician is safe from the rage of the tea party — not even the tea party’s canniest political leader.

Longer View

From Party’s Future to Also-Ran in a Single Day

jason zengerleRead

On the day his political career died, Eric Cantor was busy tending to what he still believed was its bright future. While his GOP-primary opponent, David Brat, visited polling places in and around Richmond, Virginia, Cantor spent his morning 90 miles away at a Capitol Hill Starbucks. He was there to host a fund-raiser for three of his congressional colleagues — something he did every month, just another part of the long game he was playing, which, he believed, would eventually culminate in his becoming Speaker of the House.

The preceding five years had brought Cantor tantalizingly closer to that goal. In the immediate aftermath of Obama’s election, he’d rallied waffling House Republicans to stand in lockstep opposition to the new president’s agenda. In 2010, he’d helped elect 87 new Republican members, giving the GOP a House majority and making Cantor the House majority leader. He became the champion of these freshmen members, stoking their radicalism during the debt-ceiling fight and working to undermine Obama and John Boehner’s attempt to strike a “grand bargain.” His alliance with the ascendant tea party was strategic — it gave him leverage not only over Obama but over other Republicans who might also have had aspirations of becoming Speaker. It never occurred to him that the wave he was trying to ride might crash on him instead.

Cantor and his political team never took Brat, a little-known economics professor, as a serious threat.

After the Capitol Hill fund-raiser on Primary Day, Cantor headed back to his district. The only other thing on his public schedule for the rest of that day was the victory party that evening at a Richmond hotel—an event that seemed so pro forma many of Cantor’s top aides weren’t even going to attend. But by 7:30, it was clear Cantor had been defeated. He trooped down to the hotel ballroom to give a curt concession speech, and he called Brat’s cell phone to offer his congratulations—only to have Brat not answer the phone and send Cantor’s call to voice-mail. More than two years later, the two have still not spoken.

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Jun. 22

Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket returns safely to Earth after being launched into space, turning the world’s wealthiest into plausible space imperialists.

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Jun. 30

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the Supreme Court sets a broad precedent: Corporations can opt out of laws incompatible with their religious beliefs.

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Aug. 9

Officer Darren Wilson fatally shoots Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, sparking a national protest movement and setting off unrest that will remain unresolved two years later.

LONGER VIEW

On the Triumph of Black Culture in the Age of Police Shootings

Rebecca CarrollRead

In the two years since Mike Brown was fatally shot by the police in Ferguson, and the video footage of his dead body in the street went viral, we have seen the emergence of a perverse dichotomy on our screens and in our public discourse: irrefutable evidence of grotesquely persistent racism, and irrefutable evidence of increasing black cultural and political power. This paradox is not entirely new, of course — America was built on a narrative of white supremacy, and black Americans have simultaneously continued to make vast and essential contributions to the country’s prominence—but it has become especially pronounced. And it’s not just because of the internet and social media, or the leftward shift of the culture, or black America’s being sick and tired of being sick and tired. In fact, it is all of these things, not least two terms with a black president. In the same way that black skin signals danger to the police (and to more white people than anyone is willing to admit), his black skin, to black people, signaled black cultural preservation. African-Americans didn’t see a black man as the most powerful leader in the free world; we saw the most powerful leader in the free world as black. This is what comedian Larry Wilmore was expressing at the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner when he said, “Yo, Barry, you did it, my nigga.” It was a moment of unadulterated black pride.

So along with the videos of police shooting Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Terence Crutcher, among too many others, we also have Claudia Rankine awarded the Mac­Arthur “genius” grant, which she called a prize for “the subject of racism”; and Ta-Nehisi Coates winning the National Book Award for a book that openly shames the inherent racism of the American Dream. Then there was Roxane Gay’s becoming the first black woman to write for Marvel Comics; Ava DuVernay’s becoming the first black woman to helm a Disney film; and Laverne Cox’s becoming the first black transgender woman to grace the cover of Time magazine. April Reign’s viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite drew so much attention that the Academy was compelled to launch a historic action to increase diversity; 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem brought Black Lives Matter into the living rooms of millions of football fans. All that, and we haven’t even gotten to the global phenomenon that was Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade.

Simultaneously and not coincidentally, Black Lives Matter and Black Twitter have unleashed a vocabulary that white America is now actively recruiting: Almost every major online media outlet regularly offers news, essays, and stories featuring language like “woke” and “bae” and “get your life” and “hilarious AF” or “it is everything” — all language that was until recently dismissed as Ebonics. This is not just about the Zeitgeist, or the media trying to capitalize on identity politics (though that is happening, too; hence the listicles and videos with headlines like “The 10 Most Racist Things You Didn’t Know Were Racist”). Black people are reinventing mainstream vernacular and setting the tone for cultural dialogue.

All of this in parallel to viral video after viral video of black bodies young and old, shot and killed, beaten or pinned to the ground with a knee in the back, knocked out of a school desk. The spectrum of anti-black racism is extreme — from microaggression to monkey memes to murder. But so is the spectrum of black achievement. In the past few years, black America has harnessed centuries of pent-up capacity and shot it out of a cannon.

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Aug. 16

The #GamerGate origin story: Eron Gjoni publishes a 9,425-word rant about his ex-girlfriend, game developer Zoë Quinn, igniting months of misogynistic online harassment, most of it still inscrutable to anyone not centrally involved.

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Aug. 20

Attorney General Eric Holder goes to Ferguson as the protests bring the city to a boil.

Eric Holder

A Risky Visit

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Eric Holder Former attorney general

“After the protests and the violence started up after the shooting, after the police response to it, after the media coverage of it that was both national and international in scope, and after there were repeated days and nights of protests — protests that were in some ways legitimate and peaceful, in other ways violent, and the police response, which was sometimes appropriate and sometimes not — you got the sense that the situation was spiraling out of control.

We were up at Martha’s Vineyard on vacation. I remember speaking with the president about how the administration should respond. He couldn’t go because with his security profile that would have simply overwhelmed the local police. So we made the determination that I would go. It was high risk because we were, in essence, putting the prestige of the Justice Department, the attorney general, and potentially the administration on the line, and if the trip proved to be unsuccessful, if the protests continued in a violent way, that would have been very problematic. My security detail was very concerned about what the situation was like there, but I remember telling them that I couldn’t be riding around in an armored-vehicle police carrier. I had to be visible.

We took Air Force Two, the plane normally used by the vice-president. I remember there was a TV on the plane. It had a picture of the plane that I was on landing in Ferguson. CNN was covering the landing of the plane, and we landed and people from my staff were getting off. I don’t remember which commentator it was, but one of them said, ‘There’s Holder coming off the plane now.’ It wasn’t me — it was one of my ­staffers. That’s always been the funny moment from the day.

What struck me about the day was there was consistency from the residents there, young and old, black and white. People — primarily black folks — talked about how they’d been arbitrarily treated by the local police, how they’d been stopped for reasons they’d thought had been inappropriate and they’d get into the system and it was hard to get out of it. If you missed a court appearance — sometimes they’d be set during work hours—your fines went up. When the report was done by folks in our civil-rights division, they found that the police department or the criminal-justice system was being used as a way to generate money for the local government.

I remember at the community meeting, there was a woman who was expressing concerns about whether we would conduct a really fair, impartial, independent investigation, and I assured her that we would. remember I said, ‘I’m the attorney general of the United States, but I’m also a black man.’ I remember leaving there and thinking to myself: There’s no way I’m going to let these people down.

Thinking back to making the decision to go out there — made in one of the most peaceful places in the world, Martha’s Vineyard in August — to landing in what was, for lack of a better term, a hot spot in the middle of Missouri … It was a risky decision. But I think it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t enough to simply say things from Washington.

The decision to go was one that I made with the president. We always talk about the value of diversity, and the fact that you had two black men looking at that situation and being impacted in the way that we were, as both public officials and black men — I think that might have impacted the final determination that I should go. I’m obviously speculating here, if two other men had been in the situation whether they would have reached the same conclusion, and whether if you had a white attorney general if it would have had the same impact. I don’t know. I think it certainly was part of the calculus, never spoken, never said, between us. But I think it was something that had an influence on me, on him. It was not something we ever talked about since then, but I suspect that at some level, it was a factor.”

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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Aug. 19

ISIS takes to YouTube, posting a video of journalist James Foley’s beheading. Two weeks later, it posts another beheading video, this one of American journalist Steven Sotloff.

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Aug. 24

Beyoncé performs at the MTV VMAs in front of a giant “FEMINIST” spotlight, claiming the political-pop throne.

READING POP

Queen Bey

Craig JenkinsRead

Casual fans may not have realized that the Obama years belonged, really, to Beyoncé before the earth-shaking 2016 release of Lemonade — a vibrant multi-platform collection of personal fights and activist stripes that cemented her place as the era’s preeminent pop mind. But she’d been sitting in that throne for a while by that point, probably since her self-titled 18-music-video “audiovisual” album seemed to command literally the entire world’s attention for a week in 2013. And then there was the time she built a stage of spotlights declaring herself a FEMINIST — a pretty unmistakable announcement that Beyoncé, whose career was once an apolitical ’90s-pop confection, had come politically of age, especially if coming of age meant infusing her own stardom with identity politics and female self-empowerment (for fans, the causes would become almost synonymous with her name). That was the Obama years: when pop became a kind of politics and used that assertive power to reconquer a music world that had not so long ago pushed it to the margins.

Eight years can be an eternity or an instant in music. The two terms Barack Obama has served as commander-in-chief weren’t enough time to break EDM and R&B’s tug-of-war for control of radio, but they did usher in a new pop elite including Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj. This class restored a sense of artistic autonomy following the producer-Svengali era of the mid-aughts (with Timbaland, the Neptunes, Irv Gotti, and the like). But it was more than just new musical auteurism: A different kind of pop star was forged in the Obama years, one that attempts to juggle the spectacle of song and dance with internet savvy and caring advocacy. Many stars effortlessly nail two of the three. (See: Drake, Justin Timberlake, and Taylor Swift’s meme-friendly pop kingdoms or Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole’s strategic political anti-stardom.) But Beyoncé has learned to juggle all of them, sojourning from confident if aloof songcraft into a deeply personal body of work that attests to her experiences as a woman, mother, wife, and activist through visionary songs, videos, and stage shows that add up to something like the arrow of history.

Marching in lockstep with Beyoncé all along is her Beyhive, one of the most militant and dedicated pop-star fandoms of all time. The Hive not only keeps Beyoncé’s records on the charts and her shows packed to sold out; they protect their queen like a swarm of literal bees. This kind of fandom is specifically a Twitter-age phenomenon; the directness of a Twitter mention is the perfect carrier for a fan’s enjoyment or dissatisfaction. On one particularly brutal evening in 2014, an audience member from BET’s defunct video-countdown show 106 & Park told co-host Lil Bow Wow she thought Beyoncé needed to retire; she was met with a tidal wave of social-media abuse before she even got home from the taping. The Hive can build and nurture, but dissidents get stung, and hard.

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EMPOWERED: Pop star as movement. Photo: Andrew White/Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment
Sept. 2

Emma Sulkowicz begins carrying a mattress around the Columbia campus to protest the school administration’s response to her claim of sexual assault.

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Sep. 24

Black-ish premieres on ABC, the closest thing to a peek inside the family life of the White House most Americans are going to get.

READING TV

Our Huxtables

Ashley WeatherfordRead

Six years after a Harvard Law–educated black lawyer and her Harvard Law mixed-race husband and their two polished young daughters took up residence in the White House, a Howard-­educated black advertising executive, his mixed-race Brown-alum anesthesiologist wife, and their four polished children took up residence in prime time. But the brilliance of Black-ish was that, as much as its timeliness made it a cultural landmark, it was also pretty timeless. Black America has always needed Black-ish, just as white America has always needed Seinfeld or Sex and the City; like its 1980s predecessor, The Cosby Show, Black-ish is essentially about the ordinariness of black family life, even if that ordinariness occasionally means staring down race-specific quandaries: What do you teach your black children about use of the N-word? How do you address your neighbor’s unfounded belief that you can’t swim simply because you are black? How do you straddle multiple roles in society and navigate a shaky proximity to blackness and whiteness that threatens to erase facets of your own cultural identity? What Black-ish does most of all is stamp out the ill-­conceived notion that Obama’s presidency marked the beginning of post-racial America. Or post-class America, for that matter. The show doesn’t give answers on how to address race, especially for upwardly mobile black Americans, but it introduces the conversation, which is a start.

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Sep. 30

The first Ebola case is diagnosed on U.S. soil, freaking out every American who has end-times anxiety (i.e., everybody).

Susan Rice

Operation: Outbreak

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Tom Frieden, the head of CDC, briefed us with a chart that basically blew all of our minds and predicted that by January 2015, we could have up to 1.4 million cases. And Ebola traditionally has a mortality of rate of 25 to 90 percent, so you can see why that would make everybody’s head explode. And so the president basically said to me and the ­national-security team, ‘Tell me what this is going to take and we will do it.’ We needed to surge medical beds. We needed to surge treatment facilities. We needed to surge logistics support. We needed to surge health-care workers. And to do all of that, we concluded that [we would need] the deployment of U.S. military, which rarely if ever has been deployed purely for a medical-response mission.

The president felt that it was his job to be the voice of reason. You’ll recall, people were freaking out. Every plane that came from West Africa or every person who might be from West Africa was potentially carrying Ebola. There were calls to shut the borders and to prevent all West Africans from coming to the United States. There were calls in Congress for the same, and it was really kind of getting crazy and overheated.

I’d say the senior team of national-­security principals was about evenly divided on the question of whether it was necessary to embrace more radical options, like closure or partial closure. The president said, ‘We can’t be crazy.’ How do you keep an American citizen out of the country, right? And what’s the difference between an American citizen who’s traveled to West Africa and a West African who’s traveling to the United States? It wouldn’t work and it wasn’t smart.

By the end of November, we had bent the curve. And rather than 1.4 million people, we had ultimately too many, but 28,000 were infected and 11,000 died and the 28,000 was a miracle in terms of what it could have been.”

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Oct. 3

The first episode of Serial airs; it introduces listeners to the story of unusually sympathetic convicted murderer Adnan Syed, the proper pronunciation of MailChimp — and podcasts.

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Oct. 16

Hannibal Buress makes a “joke” about Bill Cosby’s history of date rape at a Philadelphia comedy club, somehow finally triggering a public shaming. By the end of the year, dozens of women come forward to accuse Cosby of rape, introducing a whole new era of reckoning with long-overlooked sex crimes of the past.

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Nov. 4

On Election Day, Republicans take the Senate, turning Obama into something of a lame duck.

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Nov. 7

Jobs are back! If you’re white and over 20, that is. In a (generally optimistic) survey, teen unemployment is measured at more than three times the national average, at 18.6 percent; for African-American teens, it’s 30.6 percent.

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Nov. 20

Obama issues executive actions to allow more than 4 million undocumented immigrants to apply for work permits. Several states file suits against the plan, and a Texas judge will place an injunction on the program in 2015.

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Nov. 22

12-year-old Tamir Rice is shot and killed by police while playing in a Cleveland park with a toy gun.

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His death is the latest killing of an unarmed black man — or, in this case, a child — to fuel a national outrage, as well as private pain for the friends and families left behind. Here, the siblings of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Freddie Gray, and Akai Gurley.

Siblings of the Fallen Photographs by Bobby Doherty Jahvaris Fulton, 25, brother of Trayvon Martin. Tajai Rice, 16, sister of Tamir Rice. Jazmine, 7, sister of Michael Brown. Andrè, 12, brother of Michael Brown. Chantay Moore, 35, sister of Oscar Grant. Fredricka Gray, 26, sister of Freddie Gray. Dèja, 17, sister of Michael Brown. Akisha Pringle, 21, sister of Akai Gurley. Tavon Rice, 18, brother of Tamir Rice. Tasheona Rice, 20, sister of Tamir Rice.
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Nov. 23

Tunisia holds its first free presidential election since gaining independence in 1956. Though the country was heralded as the Arab Spring’s “success story,” a 2015 poll will find that “83 percent of Tunisians believe their country is headed in the wrong direction.”

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Nov. 24

A hacker group calling itself “Guardians of the Peace,” possibly from North Korea, publishes nearly the entire Sony Pictures email archive, including behind-the-scenes sniping about casting and directing choices that the American public was apparently starved for.

LONGER VIEW

Hacking: A Love-Hate Story

Heather HavrileskyRead

In the age of the hacker, privacy is a thing of the past. Or is that just what we tell ourselves so we feel better when we’re perusing the embarrassment of prurient riches we encounter almost every day online, from Colin Powell’s leaked emails to a long list of Amazon purchases made by a Sony executive? Because even though we know these things are none of our business, were illegally obtained, and are flat-out unethical to view, it can still be hard to resist. After all, what good does it do? Even if you don’t give in to the temptation to check out, say, the illegally hacked naked photos of Jennifer Lawrence, thereby managing to avoid treating yourself to a moment in her life that wasn’t designed for your eyes, it’s not like others won’t. Or that by averting your eyes, you’ll make the photos disappear. In fact, you’ll still have many more chances to see them; they’re likely to exist online in perpetuity. This is the unexpected, chilling reality of the information age: The second some intriguing bit of content hits the internet, it is distributed exponentially and will live on indefinitely. Not only will every word from the Sony hack of 2014, the Ashley Madison hack of 2015, and the Colin Powell email hack from this summer be accessible for years to come, but any of the personal information hacked from corporate and government databases Anthem, the IRS, the Federal Office of Personnel Management, Swift, and Yahoo could wind up online, too. (You can be sure it’s already been bought and sold on the dark web several times over.) Treating the pilfering of personal data as some kind of a fun game without consequences when there’s a very real chance that a deeply corrupt totalitarian could take office soon is pretty much the definition of ignorance. But then, sometimes playing dumb is the guiltiest pleasure of all.

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Dec. 7

Airbnb reaches 1 million listings.

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Dec. 17

Obama announces plans to restore normal relations with Cuba: “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.”

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Dec. 31

By year’s end, 47,000 people have died of drug overdoses, two-thirds of them from opiates or other opioid pain relievers, a rate of death now rivaling that of AIDS in the late 1980s.

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Year 7

2015

Unemployment5.7%
Dow Jones17,833
GDP$17,947 TR.
Troops in Afghanistan9,100
Troops in IraqUp to 3,100
Jan. 7

Gunmen claiming allegiance to Islamic terrorism attack Charlie Hebdo’s offices and a kosher supermarket in Paris, killing 16.

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Feb. 4

The number of retailers accepting bitcoin reportedly surpasses 100,000, which might exceed the number of non-tech employees who have heard of it.

LONGER VIEW

Is Silicon Valley the Last Refuge of Optimists?

Paul FordRead

Google has a biotech company that aims to beat death at its game. Facebook wants to connect the entire planet to the internet, while its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has a new foundation that seeks to cure “all” the diseases. Then there’s Peter Thiel’s rumored craving for the blood of the young to extend his own life, Theranos pricking our fingers with falsehoods, and the many start-ups that offer a plan to change the world. Technological optimism in California is a natural resource, like oil in the Middle East, seemingly inexhaustible, a motive force of the economy, and not a little bad for the environment. America’s own House of Saud is the Venture Class. They tend toward a sunny libertarianism, they read relatively few novels, they love productivity tips, and they occasionally propose — so valuable are its pearls — that California secede from the Union, the better to disrupt the world.

You might think it’s still all about apps, but you’d be wrong. Pitch an app and a venture capitalist yawns. “Trillion-dollar opportunity” are words they hear day in, day out. What they want is the market, the whole shebang. That’s what Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft are: machines for making and moving markets. Google launched its own trading floor in 2010, you know? Their shiny products are playing pieces in a very long game of “ecosystems” and “lock-in,” inserting themselves into as many transactions as they can, taking just that digital bit off the digital top.

The media tends to make this whole digital revolution a battle between Silicon Valley and, well, the media. Typical narcissism. The implosion of the media industry is really just collateral damage. Silicon Valley wants to be the fun Wall Street, the market where all must come, taking a few pennies with every transaction. The idea that Silicon Valley could mint currency was almost pornographically exciting. To seduce a VC, whisper the word arbitrage into his pink, pink ear. That’s why VCs went so crazy for bitcoin. To them, bitcoin was like a catchy earworm; once they heard it, they had to hear it again and again. You make the money yourself … with the computer? You mint cash … with computation? You no longer had to find a link between ever-faster central processing units and the global economy? The fast computer is the economy and things are looking uuuuuuuup. And predictably, they lost their minds.

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Feb. 17

Hamilton opens Off Broadway at the Public Theater. The Obamas will see it multiple times, including in their own house; others wait years for a ticket.

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Mar. 2

The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton used a private email account throughout her time as secretary of State. Two days later, she asks the State Department to release all her emails. Over the course of the next year, it will release 30,000 of them, including a memorable exchange with Huma Abedin over how to operate a fax machine.

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Mar. 7

Some 40,000 people gather to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma, including Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama, who tells the crowd, “If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done.”

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Mar. 23

The 2016 presidential-election season begins when Senator Ted Cruz becomes the first to announce his candidacy, a mere 596 days before Election Day. Sixteen other Republican hopefuls will eventually join him in the primary — one of whom goes on to Dancing With the Stars.

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Apr. 2

Michelle Obama shimmies with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show and banishes forever the notion that she is an angry radical agent.

LONGER VIEW

The First Lady’s Revolutionary Charm

Tamara Winfrey HarrisRead

Michelle Obama does a mean “Shush and Tush.” So we learned when the First Lady shook her bum with Jimmy Fallon during a Tonight Show bit called “Evolution of Mom Dancing,” part of a robust ­FLOTUS TV canon that’s also involved joining Stephen ­Colbert in a blanket fort and dunking on ­LeBron James in a digital short. This accessibility and charm have made Michelle Obama a powerful asset to her husband’s administration. But it wasn’t always clear that this would be so.

African-American women have been burdened with a reputation for anger, aggression, masculinity, and inhuman strength since their arrival in the Colonial United States. The stereotype was used to explain why enslaved African women, unlike the delicate moneyed white women they served, were able to endure the lash, grueling work, rape, and sexual exploitation. It was more complicated to saddle the biracial candidate Barack Obama, son of a bohemian white mother from Kansas, raised in Hawaii by white grandparents, with being a source of simmering racial resentment. (Though plenty certainly tried.) His wife — the South Side–of–Chicago–born sister — was the more likely suspect of menacing radical thoughts — “Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress,” according to Fox News’ Juan Williams.

That was on the nice end of things. Not long after the Obamas took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, South Carolina Republican political ­figure Rusty DePass referred to an escaped gorilla, then in the news, as “just one of Michelle’s ­ancestors.” Others may acknowledge Michelle Obama’s humanity, but not her womanhood. A recent political ­cartoon by libertarian artist Ben Garrison promised that “#InTrumpsAmerica The #FirstLady will be Great Again!” below an illustration contrasting a hulking, scowling Michelle Obama, a penis print marking the front of her dress, with a curvy and smiling Melania Trump.

And yet, for a woman with an intimidating two Ivy League degrees, Michelle Obama has been arguably more affable and relatable than any First Lady in modern memory (to the consternation of some white feminists who can’t see the subversiveness inherent in a black woman playing the traditional ceremonial role of presidential spouse). She has taught schoolchildren to garden, worn colorful cardigans and iconic dresses, and busied herself being “mom-in-chief” (providing America with a counternarrative to the stereotype of dysfunctional black parenting and unapologetically focusing her talents on nurturing two children thrust into the public eye by their ­parents). And she has challenged Fallon to a push-up contest, embracing her strength in defiance of those who question her femininity.

She is, according to Gallup, a First Lady with favorability ratings that, on average, have exceeded those of her predecessors. For every person who endorses a stereotypical characterization of Michelle Obama, many more have been moved by her obvious humanity to walk away from broken narratives about her and all black women.

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Drawing by Leslie L Brown Jr.
Apr. 8

Apple adds skin-color modifiers to emoji — in response, black, white, brown, and Simpsons people applaud.

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Apr. 24

“I’m a woman,” Caitlyn Jenner tells Diane Sawyer, marking a watershed moment in both transgender awareness and reality television.

LONGER VIEW

Gay Rights Happened Slowly; Trans Rights, All at Once

Andrew SolomonRead

On January 20, 2015, President Obama said the word transgender in his State of the Union address. It was only a word — but given that Ronald Reagan refused even to say the word AIDS publicly until 1985 because he was so disgusted by sexual diversity, the president’s choice to use that word counts for a very great deal. When I started my last book in the early aughts, people to whom I mentioned the trans kids
I was writing about were astonished that they existed; some were appalled by what they took to be a precocious sexual perversion. But as one trans activist said to me, “Trans is who you are; sexuality is whom you bounce it off of,” and people can accept who someone is more readily than what someone does. Now federal prisoners’ gender transitions are covered by government funds, and in 2013, the DSM, the bible of psychiatry, shifted its code from gender-identity disorder, which posited that all trans people were mentally ill, to gender dysphoria, the supposition that it is not inherently diseased minds but sadness about their wrongful bodies that warrants intervention. It is now accepted that you are who you say you are.

Trans and gay are not the same thing experientially, but they have been amalgamated politically under the now-dominant LGBTQ banner — a necessity given the much larger number of gay people than trans people. But that very acronym speaks to diversity within this embracing queer community and acceptance of that diversity outside it. How did it happen? The night of Obama’s election in 2008 was a painful one for many gay people. I welcomed this new president, but I mourned Proposition 8 passing in California, revoking the right to marriage where it had already been granted; grieved over the state constitutional amendments in Florida and Arizona that made gay marriage illegal.

But the setback turned out to be galvanizing. A decade or so after the introduction of effective HIV treatment, LGBTQ people were empowered to talk about something other than AIDS, to fight for esteem instead of fighting merely for the right to remain alive. The coherence the movement for gay rights had achieved as it fought disease was now focused on seeking acceptance, and through a bewildering alchemy, the test case became marriage.

I used to be ashamed of being gay. For all that I put on a good show of pride, I used to feel I was making the most of an unfortunate situation. Partly, that changed because I grew up, achieved self-acceptance, met my husband, and had kids, all of which salved the regret. But also, the world stopped pitying me. The external validation of the class of human beings to which I belong has worked a subtle magic. Our assertions of pride have finally achieved that pride.

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May 23

A Baptist church in Louisville, Kentucky, conducts its first same-sex wedding.

Living It

A Small Ceremony of Unfamous People

Joe Phelps, minister; Steven Carr, groom, age 27; David Bannister Jr., groom, age 31.Read

JP: I’ve been the pastor here for 20 years. When I came, it was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” church. Then, one by one, longtime members would share their sexuality. That, more than any magic verse in the Bible, began to make it more possible for us to have gay people be deacon or teach a Bible-study class. The last hurdle for us, though, was same-sex weddings. David and Steven came to us, very gently and kindly and respectfully, and said, “We know this is out of the box, but this is our church, and we want to get married in front of our people.”

SC: Why would we get married somewhere else? I felt like, if we do end up having to get married somewhere else, I don’t know that emotionally I can continue to come to this place where my wedding should have been.

JP: But they never said it in a way that was like blackmail. They would say it with grief, like, “We’re trying to prevent that.” Unfortunately, we asked David and Steven if we could wait a year. They were so gracious in saying yes. A year passed, and they said, “Knock, knock. It’s time.” How can we tell parishioners who happen to be same-sex that they can’t have their wedding in our sanctuary? We had this wedding, God was present, the ceiling didn’t fall in, and we’ve never looked back. We lost some families over this. And we miss those folks, but we had to move on.

DB: A month later, Steven’s family had a reunion, and he couldn’t go. I went with his parents. Usually when his mom introduces me to family, it’s always, “This is Steven’s friend, David.” At this reunion, she said, “This is my son’s husband, David. Steven couldn’t make it, but he came to meet you all.”

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Photo: Travis Eichurt/Courtesy of the subjects
Jun. 16

Donald Trump announces his candidacy for president, a reality-TV show about whether democracy will get voted off the island.

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Jun. 26

With their decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court enshrines marriage equality for same-sex couples throughout the country.

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“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a ­marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for ­themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”— Justice Anthony Kennedy

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Jul. 14

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is published, turning reparations and the prison-industrial complex into dinner-table conversation.

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“All our phrasing — race ­relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white ­privilege, even white supremacy — serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Jul. 14

After 16 months of formal negotiations and years of secret talks, the U.S. and Iran strike a deal on nuclear weapons.

John Kerry and Ernest Moniz

It Came Closer to the Edge Than We Realized

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John Kerry Secretary of State
Ernest Moniz Energy secretary

JK: The initial meeting in Geneva had a little bit of posturing and some resistance. There had been months of negotiations leading up to that. And we had to keep Congress briefed, we kept Israel briefed.

EM: We were asking for a very substantial rollback of the nuclear enterprise, in return for political-slash-economic concessions on the other side. And the technical knowledge did matter. I’m not going to go into detail, but let’s say there had been proposals for various ways of cutting back on the nuclear program which may have sounded much better to a foreign-affairs specialist than they did to a nuclear technologist. For [Iranian nuclear head Ali Akbar] Salehi, what was very important is that they were not entirely eliminating activities. So, they still get to run some centrifuges for enrichment, but only the old ones. They get to redesign a reactor — it’s not like you can’t have one — but they pour cement in the current one and the new one does not push the buttons that concern us. We followed the president’s direction that there are things that we absolutely need and will not compromise on. We would write on whiteboards. But I would never pocket something until we came back the next time and it was still there, since Salehi would have to go talk to his teams and maybe get pushed one way or another.

On April 2, we got the interim agreement nailed.

JK: We didn’t really want to do an interim agreement, to be honest. We were cornered into that by the imminent potential of Congress passing additional sanctions, which would have blown the whole thing apart. The people who were opposed to it were passing a lot of disinformation around. Israeli prime minister Bibi [Netanyahu] was saying that every day they’re giving away one more thing, et cetera, which wasn’t true. He was tweeting. And so we needed to go public with the outlines of the deal. But [Iran’s minister of foreign affairs Jabad] Zarif and I knew at the time that this was going to complicate our lives. Because he was going to have to go back to Iran and explain to the hard-liners, who’d say, “What?! You’re going to undo your centrifuge? You’re going to give up your calandria? This is terrible.” Same thing on my side. But we plowed ahead.

EM: Getting to that last one was tougher.

JK: It took place over 19 remarkably ‘Groundhog’-ish days, where I was on my crutches, I’d just broken my leg two weeks earlier, and I was hobbling back and forth between my hotel and the Palais Coburg Hotel. I remember we all had planned to be home for the Fourth of July. The first of July came, the third of July, the Fourth of July. I’ll never forget we had the maître d’, the concierge of the Coburg hotel, dressed in blue pants with white stars and a red sash, and he gave us this incredible cookout.

When you’re living in a hotel, if you’ve got two sets of underwear and two shirts, you can get them washed every day, so I had enough, that wasn’t the problem. My problem was I was still in a gingerly state. We had to prop my leg up under the table.

There were moments when I thought these guys just were not serious. But the alternative to this genuinely was a road to conflict. The pressures had already been very high the year before from Israel and others to bomb Iran, and there were serious discussions about these things, people don’t realize it. But a lot of people wanted that program literally attacked kinetically and didn’t believe in the diplomatic track.

EM: The deal really does have to be judged in a hard-nosed way on the peaceful-uses-of-nuclear-energy basis. But I’d be kidding if I didn’t also harbor the hope, as do others, that this could be the beginning of something much bigger.

Illustrations by Lauren Tamaki

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Jul. 23

Amazon overtakes Walmart to become the highest-valued retailer in U.S. The new American Dream — to shop on your couch in sweatpants — is fully realized.

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Aug. 18

Facebook, now with more than 1.6 billion users, surpasses Google as the primary way that people find news. And “news.”

LONGER VIEW

All News Is Equal in the Age of Facebook

Max ReadRead

Unless you were a member of a small number of families in New York City, it would have been very rare over the past century to open up a newspaper and find, between international news and entertainment gossip, pictures of your new nephew or a wedding announcement for a middle-school classmate.

But we live in the future now, and this alarming, alienating, and totally compelling collage of news, gossip, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and videos featuring two different species of animals becoming friends is the conventional way to get information. It’s a point of access that is, by many important measures, bigger than Google. Where Google requires you to seek out the news you want, Facebook will serve up relevant content the minute you open up the app. “Relevant,” of course, is defined as “that which the user is most likely to engage with”: No matter how much you insist you hate “clickbait,” Facebook knows you’re going to linger on “She Wore WHAT to School??” and scroll right past “U.S. Ties Russia to Strike on U.N. Convoy in Syria.”

Meanwhile, newspapers, magazines, and digital publishers jockey for space alongside small businesses, enthusiast groups, multinational conglomerates, actors, DJs, models, actor-DJs, model-DJs, and users like yourself. Who needs to search for news (or, worse, rely on editors!) when you can get it directly from Facebook’s black-box sorting algorithm?

The informational singularity hasn’t freed us from prejudice or partisanship or ­narcissism — if anything, it’s stoked our worst impulses. The result is less a media landscape peacefully democratized than one violently razed, its great edifices stripped for parts and its gatekeepers reduced to shrieking mendicants. But in the rubble of authority, in the flattened, open space left behind, stories once left ignored or under­covered — police brutality, pay equality and sexual harassment, and, yes, deranged conspiracy theories — take root and flower. Provided, of course, they don’t run afoul of Facebook’s content-moderation policies.

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Aug. 19

Mr. Robot’s true identity is revealed.

Reading TV

When Paranoid Feels Sane

David Wallace-WellsRead

Typically, conspiracy procedurals pay a price when they migrate from plausible universes to really hard-to-follow ones—it’s a lot less fun trying to piece together clues, as a viewer, once you’ve realized the story won’t quite add up in any IRL sense. The hacker dystopia Mr. Robot was different. Almost as soon as it premiered in the summer of 2015, it became clear that the show wasn’t making a mistake when it slipped off the rails of noir naturalism and took on the clinically paranoid POV of its protagonist (who happens to suffer from dissociative identity disorder, social anxiety, and depression, in addition to being, of course, a genius). Unlike, say, Lost, the fantastical elements of Mr. Robot (the revelation that the protagonist’s mentor is actually his split-personality self, for instance) were always exactly the point. In fact, they contained the show’s basic insight: that the best way to dramatize the experience of our new surveillance era was not by analogy to the rule of totalitarianism but to life under the sign of mental illness. It’s one version of terrifying to know you’re being watched; it’s another when the whole fabric of reality feels hacked. By whom? No one is quite sure.

Fifteen years after the Patriot Act and the first drone strikes, and several since Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, Americans are not, whatever previous generations of alarmists warned, living in a George Orwell novel. The world is much weirder than that. Consider, for a second, just the world-­affairs stage: Thanks to surveillance, we get to see Angela Merkel brushing off President Obama out of spite for his spy agency spying on her, read Colin Powell saying Hillary Clinton was going to “dick up” her email accounts, and follow executive sniping about just how untalented Angelina Jolie is, thanks to a North Korea hack of Sony servers conducted out of spite for a bad Seth Rogen movie. That’s all on the dignified end of things; it gets less totalitarian from there. There could be no Guccifer (the guy who leaked George W. Bush’s paintings) in Orwell, of course; no place for The Fappening in 1984. But that surveillance has made things very weird for all of us doesn’t mean that the story of how we live in a new model panopticon is a light or funny one; in fact, the lessons are much darker, more cyberpunk. Surveillance has not brought about total control and desperate passivity. Instead, we’ve gotten something close to the opposite, a world in which all bets are off, nobody can be trusted, and anything seems possible. It’s almost enough to make you long for the reassuring hand of Big Brother on your shoulder. As for which half of that dyad Rami Malek is likely to represent, “you” or “the state” — honestly, it’s probably both.

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Aug. 30

“As you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.” Kanye West

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Sept. 8

Matt McGorry writes that becoming a feminist “reminded me of falling in love.”

Longer View

How America Got “Woke”

Phoebe RobinsonRead

Much of the internet may have learned the adjective woke — highly attuned to prejudices of all kinds — from BuzzFeed’s 2015 article “Can We Talk About How Woke Matt McGorry Was in 2015?” (For instance, “This year McGorry wrote an essay for Cosmopolitan on what it’s like to become a feminist.”) But for years, “wokeness” has been discussed in places like Black Twitter alongside such issues as cocoa butter, who was the better Aunt Viv on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (the OG one or the light-skinned replacement), and when will people learn that unless the word white precedes the name “Michelle Williams,” we are always, always, referring to the third member of Destiny’s Child. In Erykah Badu’s 2008 song “Master Teacher,” she stressed that she was “staying woke.” But the concept didn’t take off in a big way until the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the rise of Black Lives Matter.

Eventually, as with anything that becomes mainstream, woke made its way to memes, mocking people who believe they are deeper than they actually are. Becoming a GIF is how you know you’ve hit the big time, amirite? Anyway, while woke had generally been used in reference to awareness of police brutality and other incidents of institutionalized racism, now it also extends to awareness of issues affecting women and the LGBTQ+ community. Recently, woke became married to the word bae (which is code for “before anyone else” and used to describe a significant other). “Woke bae” is now a label applied typically to a person in the public eye who is not only attractive but smart AF about race, gender, and sexuality.

Woke baes of the moment include McGorry, an avid reader of bell hooks and supporter of trans issues who is now better known for that support than for his role on Orange Is the New Black; Jesse Williams, the Grey’s Anatomy actor who designed programs such as Question Bridge: Black Males to uplift black men; and Ava DuVernay, who had an all-female directing staff for her show Queen Sugar and is vocal about #BlackLivesMatter. And Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who made his Cabinet 50 percent male and 50 percent female because, hello, it’s 2016. With the help of social media, wokeness is not only trending, it’s shaping a generation.

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HOMELESS: Migrants flee to Europe. Photo: Francesco Zizola/NOOR
Sep. 10

The Obama administration pledges to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, a move that proves controversial on the local level. For instance, in Sandpoint, Idaho (population 7,500), newly elected mayor Shelby Rognstad introduced a resolution of solidarity with refugees. At a packed city-council meeting, a protest ensued. “Islam is not a religion, it is a culture. Sharia law is their constitution … So that way we’re not excluding other religions,” said the county chair of the Republican Party. The council voted to withdraw the mayor’s proposal.

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Sep. 25

John Boehner announces he will step down as Speaker of the House and resign from Congress, after opposition from tea-party conservatives convinces him he cannot lead his party.

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Oct. 7

Hillary Clinton breaks with the president over a free-trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, two days after a deal is struck. She had initially supported it as the “gold standard in trade agreements”; her primary opponent Bernie Sanders called it “disastrous.” Donald Trump will also reject it, calling TPP a push “by special interests who want to rape our country — just a continuing rape of our country.”

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Oct. 15

The budget deficit has fallen $1 trillion under the Obama administration.

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Nov. 5

The New York Review of Books publishes Obama’s interview with Marilynne Robinson.

IN THE ROOM

Books Obama Read (Or at Least Purchased) During His Presidency

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Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill • What Is the What, by Dave Eggers • John Adams, by David McCullough • Lush Life, by Richard Price • The Way Home, by George Pelecanos • Hot, Flat, and Crowded, by Thomas L. Friedman • Plainsong, by Kent Haruf • Life of Pi, by Yann Martel • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris • Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen • Tinkers, by Paul Harding • A Few Corrections, by Brad Leithauser • President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon • The Bayou Trilogy, by Daniel Woodrell • Rodin’s Debutante, by Ward Just • Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese • To the End of the Land, by David Grossman • The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson • Home, by Toni Morrison • The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini • All That Is, by James Salter • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra • Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews • Collision Low Crossers, by Nicholas Dawidoff • The Sports Gene, by David Epstein • Wild, by Cheryl Strayed • The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan • Nora Webster, by Colm Tóibín • The Laughing Monsters, by Denis Johnson • Age of Ambition, by Evan Osnos • Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande • Redeployment, by Phil Klay • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr • The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates • Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow • Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff • The Whites, by Richard Price • Purity, by Jonathan Franzen • The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin • The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough • 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

It is a lovely book — an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.
Beautiful. I love it.
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Nov. 13

ISIS carries out synchronized attacks throughout Paris. 130 people are killed.

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Nov. 25

Obama pardons his seventh turkey, Malia Obama finally laughs at her father’s bad turkey-pardon jokes.

LONGER VIEW

The Obamas as Parents

Jon MooallemRead

When he swaggered into the Rose Garden to pardon the Thanksgiving turkey last year, Obama still had more than a year left in office, but the ­rambunctious Republican primary was already well under way. “As you may have heard,” Obama began, “for months, there has been a fierce competition between a bunch of turkeys trying to win their way into the White House.” And maybe you caught it: how, a few words in, Malia Obama, standing ­dutifully at his side, started shaking her head in regretful anticipation of a punch line she knew was coming.

The annual turkey pardon can feel like a ­ludicrous, even demeaning chore for a president, but Obama has done it with genuine and irrepressible glee. Part of that glee has involved shifting the mortifying burden of the job onto his young daughters, who have stood there, flanking him, every year while he tries out four or five minutes of excruciating dad jokes on the American people.

Let’s be clear: The Obama who shows up to pardon turkeys isn’t the Obama who slow-jams news and drops mics at the Correspondents’ Dinner. He’s an incorrigible dork, slinging puns (he described the backup turkey, one year, as “waiting in the wings”), then freezing and grinning iridescently until the press corps gives him the groans and chortles he’s looking for.

And still, year by year, something remarkable happened that changed the dynamic: The girls grew up. The Obamas have done an admirable job of sheltering their children from the press, but there’s a lot documented here, in this annual turkey-pardoning time-lapse. Sasha was only 8 when they did the first one, and mostly cheeks; Malia was 11. Each year, their awkward rocking in place and skittering gazes were replaced by a little more poise. When Malia turned up at their sixth turkey pardon last year, she’d just spent the summer in Brooklyn, interning on Girls; within a year, she’d be taped smoking what appeared to be a joint at Lollapalooza.

They were changed, but still changing. Two years earlier, after the president reached for a Hunger Games joke, Malia had let out a biting “Ha-ha.” It felt a little too caustic, like a small valve involuntarily opening to release some unbearable snark. But last year, as her dad riffed about “totus” — the “Turkey of the United States of America” — then actually buckled over, laughing at his own joke and going, “Oh, boy!” — Malia cracked into laughter, too. And there didn’t seem to be any smugness there anymore, no irritation. Instead, she seemed to look at him with a mix of esteem and pity, a generosity that recognizes a father’s vulnerability and adores it, pardons it, rather than reflexively needing to cut it down. “Okay,” Malia told him. “That’s funny.”

[Gallery: The Obama Family’s White House Life, in Pictures]
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Malia Obama Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
Nov. 30

World leaders meet in Paris to once again attempt a climate-change treaty. This time Obama and Kerry have persuaded China to come onboard. For the first time in nine years of meetings, the deadlock on a climate agreement is broken. When the U.N. summit ends, 195 countries have agreed to lower greenhouse-gas emissions.

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Year 8

2016

Unemployment4.9%
Dow Jones17,148.94
GDP$18.44 TR.
Troops in Afghanistan8,730
Troops in Iraq3,550
Jan. 6

A survey finds that 22 percent of American adults earn money in the “gig economy,” renting extra bedrooms or acting as occasional chauffeurs.

LONGER VIEW

The New Old Hustle

Sam LipsyteRead

They call it the “gig economy,” because the “turd-eating economy” doesn’t sound as good. Language is important, folks. The gig economy is, of course, the newish catchphrase for a very old model of work in America, whereby you get your “freedom” in exchange for zero job security, low wages, and enough health care, if any, to handle a shaving nick. Or, as Elizabeth Warren said in a recent speech, “Long before anyone ever wrote an article about the ‘gig economy,’ corporations had discovered the higher profits they could wring out of an on-demand workforce made up of independent contractors.”

But really, must we harp on inequality and exploitation every damn minute? Can’t Elizabeth Warren just kick back with a hard lemonade and think about the cool part of the gig economy, which is mainly its name? Isn’t having all of these gigs to make ends meet really like you’re suddenly in this stylish rock band or hot jazz combo? Never mind that there is no audience (except for workplace surveillance), no groupies, no music. You’re still gigging! Just ask the Department of Labor, whose website features a photo of some dude band rocking steady. What this image really has to do with the major sectors of the gig economy — administrative support, waste management — is up to each of us to decide. Or not.

How did we arrive here? Corporations will tell you the answer is Silicon Valley and the restless ambition of millennials, who together have forged a vibrant new model of work. Others might point to a weak job market that never really recovered from the recession and continues to fail the majority of workers.

A close friend just got fired from her gig at a tech company so powerful that if I named it I would burst into a billion shards of frozen carbon. That trapdoor drop can be pretty rattling, and it’s hard to find more work. Yet millions struggle with situations far worse. There are high-end gigs with organic snacks and low-end gigs with unaffordable injuries. To varying degrees, we’re vulnerable creatures in an out-of-whack ecosystem, scrambling for our lives. Which is why a better metaphor for this economy is another kind of gig, often called a frog gig, a popular multi-tined spear used to impale fish and small game.

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Jan. 16

Iran has halted the sketchiest parts of its nuclear program, international inspectors conclude, warily.

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Feb. 9

Senator Bernie Sanders wins the New Hampshire primary with the most votes in the state’s primary history.

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Feb 13

Anthony Scalia dies, and the White House scrambles to nominate Merrick Garland while Republicans declare they will not allow a vote.

Brian Deese

Choosing Merrick Garland

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“This was not a decision or a decision-making process that we were anticipating. Neil Eggleston, the president’s counsel, told the president on Saturday afternoon, not much before the story broke. In the first substantive conversation on it, the president had a pretty clear direction to the team, which was: ‘I want to play this straight, meaning I want us to run a rigorous process where we’re focusing on the substance of candidates, and I want to arrive at what I think is the best and most qualified candidate. That’s number one. And, two, I want to move quickly.’

So the good news was that most every White House, ours being no exception, has a warm standby of potential nominees that gets updated by the White House counsel’s office periodically because, you know, the world’s an uncertain place. We moved pretty quickly to put down a slate of potential candidates, casting a reasonably broad net, and then put those in front of the president to get an initial reaction. There was a picture on a Friday of the president carrying home for the weekend this giant binder that we had prepared. Was that a photo op? Clearly we were giving people the chance to take a photo of it. But he did spend the whole weekend reading through hundreds of pages of material, and he came in on Monday morning with the binder marked up, ready to go through it in some detail.

The initial list, you’re talking in the ballpark of 25. After the first round, several fell off, but the president also raised some new ideas and asked us to pursue some other profiles: He said, “Let’s make sure that we’re fully looking through state court systems, and also some people who may not fit the conventional role of appellate-court nominees. Former politicals, people who have principally an academic background. It was a balance between trying to encourage your team to be open-minded on the one hand and also then being able to make decisions and not get caught in an endless debating society. He’d say, ‘You guys need to be clear with me when I need to make decisions and when I need to narrow.’

As we got down to the group of four or five, he wanted to sit down and interview them face-to-face. And part of what he wanted to raise directly with these folks was the unique circumstances of this nomination. It was less him trying to test the candidates and more gauging their comfort level with navigating a process that would be very intense and could be drawn out and protracted and had a degree of political dysfunction that we hadn’t seen to date. Obviously, [Merrick] Garland is somebody who has seen a lot of this before. His path to getting on the D.C. Circuit Court was blocked for two years for reasons having nothing to do with him. And I think the president’s view was that given the circumstances, the most persuasive case that he could make to the public was that he went and chose the single most qualified person for this job at this time. The right policy was also going to be the right politics.”

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Mar. 3

There is “no problem” with the size of Donald Trump’s penis, he assures 17 million viewers during a primary debate.

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Mar. 7

Kim Kardashian posts a nude selfie and “breaks the internet.”

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Mar. 15

Trump wins the GOP Florida primary, vanquishing the Establishment’s preferred candidate.

ON THEIR BEAT

The Alt-Right Finds an Alt-Media Hope

Alexander MarlowRead
Alexander Marlow Editor-in-chief of the Breitbart News Network

“When Marco Rubio lost to Donald Trump in his home state, that was the ribbon-cutting moment for Breitbart as the home of conservative opinion. Because it wasn’t even close. He was a guy who we were told was popular, who had infomercials running 24/7, and he couldn’t come within 15 points of a New York billionaire whom Fox tried to take out in the debates. That was a good sign that the electorate was turning away from the Establishment— and that Fox had really become the Establishment. Before Donald Trump, Breitbart was pro –­ prioritizing immigration and border security as a top issue, we were pro–common-sense trade deals that benefit the American worker, we were anti–politically correct. We think of Breitbart as free-speech ­central.

It’s gotten progressively easier to shape the debate on the right, which I think a lot of people will find quite scary. And we find it quite thrilling. I’m less interested in one-off stories than things that have more connective tissue. A lot of these — trade and immigration — have patterns: The permanent political class in Washington will do a deal that will enrich their friends and make it so companies and people they’re connected to are the direct beneficiaries.

One of the things that’s important to Breitbart is to try to understand why the left has been so effective. To my mind, Barack Obama has been the most left-wing president we’ve ever had. How are they able to convince so many people that they’re superior? Aside from the climate and guns, he seems to have got a lot of his agenda through. We think his legacy is going to be much more negative than people perceive it now, but tactically he was a political wizard. A lot of what the left does is use the culture effectively. They try to appeal to a broader audience. They try to focus on issues that resonate with voters. That’s something that I think Republicans shouldn’t be turning their nose up about.”

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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RANKED: Army captain Jennifer Peace. In June, the Pentagon announced that transgender people will be allowed to serve openly. Photo: Dan Winters
Mar. 23

North Carolina elevates public-bathroom use into a statewide emergency by passing a bill requiring everyone to abide by the gender on their birth certificate. Corporate America, including the NBA, decides to boycott the state.

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Mar. 30

Former Stanford student Brock Turner is found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman and is sentenced to six months in jail. The victim’s letter to Turner becomes national news and is viewed online 11 million times in four days.

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Apr. 14

60 percent of Americans think economic conditions are getting worse, according to a new poll.

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Apr. 25

Millennials overtake baby-boomers as the largest generation. Boomers shrug and say, “Enjoy old age without Social Security!”

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Apr. 30

“Eight years ago, I said it was time to change the tone of our politics. In hindsight, I clearly should have been more specific.” — Barack Obama, White House Correspondents’ Dinner

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Jun. 7

Hillary Clinton clinches the Democratic nomination. She is the first woman nominated by a major party for president of the United States.

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Hillary Clinton Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call
Jun. 23

The United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union, setting off financial panic and bringing to a close the dream of a unified Europe.

Longer View

Brexit As Breaking Point

Christian LorentzenRead

Before the shocks of 2008, Europe was intoxicated with self-satisfaction. Historians and politicians spoke of the “European Dream” and of a “New European Century.” European values would spread south and east, replacing American hegemony with contagious global civic harmony. Perhaps someday even the Albanians would be civilized enough to be governed from Brussels.

But this dream of harmony was built on a set of fictions, the first being that the EU was fundamentally democratic — or at least that the “democratic deficit” in some of the Continent’s messier corners could somehow be reformed away by the technocrats in Brussels. Instead, the subordination of national governments by a faceless bureaucracy has left elected parties vulnerable to populist creep on their right flanks. In the United Kingdom, it resulted in a vote to ditch the EU — a plea for national sovereignty, a racist howl, or perhaps a bit of both.

A common European identity has been another fragile fiction. It was one thing for Western European states to absorb workers from Eastern Europe, but the Syrian-refugee crisis and boats of migrants arriving from North Africa have led to waves of nativist hysteria. “This is our home,” goes the chant at rallies for the National Front in France. In other words: “Stay out!” Jihadist terrorism hasn’t made anyone feel more welcoming. Neo-Nazis have returned to the frame. The slaughter committed in 2011 by Anders Breivik in Oslo has been followed by a wave of arson attacks on refugee housing throughout Northern Europe. A continent once given to bragging of its cosmopolitanism and tolerance has discovered itself to be a bit too cosmopolitan for its own liking.

Perhaps the most dangerous fiction was an ­innocuous-seeming one — the notion that a single currency could function without a true federal system. (Without a drachma to devalue, for instance, Greece has been bailed out three times since 2010 and still has debts equivalent to 180 percent of its GDP, as well as 24 percent unemployment.) In the ongoing morality play, the Germans are often cast as frugal and generous parents, the Greeks and Cypriots as feckless, lazy children. Europe today is a dysfunctional family, half-bankrupt, half-abusive, in a house full of unwelcome guests.

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Jun. 27

An eight-member Supreme Court adjourns an extraordinary term, leaving crucial elements of Obama’s legacy in limbo. His immigration plan is blocked, though not decisively; his Clean Power Plan is suspended, but perhaps only temporarily. And the Court’s surprisingly liberal decisions on affirmative action and abortion suggest the glimmers of a generational political shift.

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Jul. 9

120 Black Lives Matter activists are arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, protesting the murder of Alton Sterling; more than 100 people are detained in St. Paul, Minnesota, protesting the murder of Philando Castile.

LIVING IT

A Movement Ages Into Adolescence

Deray McKessonRead
DeRay Mckesson Activist

People weren’t even marching in the street when the police started arresting people. The police told me to get out of the street and I complied and I was still arrested. So, I spent the next 17 hours in a Baton Rouge jail alongside about 100 other protesters. There are so many incredible activists and organizers in Baton Rouge that I met in jail, though. One important thing about being out in the street was that it was a visceral reminder that you weren’t alone. That there were all these people that believed the same thing as you.

The movement has created a critical mass of people who acknowledge that there is a problem across the country. If you think about two years ago, when we were in the street in Ferguson, people thought that St. Louis had a problem, they did not yet believe that America had a problem. The reality is that the police have killed nearly three people a day in 2016, so the trauma is consistent. But there is an awareness that generally wasn’t there before.

The next part of the work is creating a critical mass of people who know what to do next. I’m mindful that the movement is young. Large, systemic change doesn’t happen overnight. One of the biggest misconceptions is around the difference between the hashtag, the organization, and the movement. And, you know, what is so powerful about the protests in Ferguson, after Mike Brown got killed, is that nobody started it. It was just people coming together and organizing, organically, to create a movement that spread around the country. And one of the things that I worry about as the movement continues is that there are people who say the only way to build power is to build an organization. And what we know to be true is that people have been doing incredible work whether they had a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization or not. Harriet Tubman organized without tax-exempt status. There are many ways to organize.”

Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

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Jul. 21

Donald Trump accepts the Republican nomination. The hostile takeover of the party is complete.

Longer View

Searching for Signs of the Populist Putsch

Frank RichRead

Of all the storms that roiled America in the Obama era, few, if any, have been more consistently underestimated or more persistent than the Great Populist Putsch. The tidal wave of grass-roots rage that rose out of the wreckage of the 2008 crash and Bush presidency has variously spawned the tea party, Occupy Wall Street, the Bernie Sanders revolution, and the Donald Trump insurgency. Yet for much of the way, the elites of both political parties were often slow to grasp what was happening, and Barack Obama was no exception.

In April 2009, after early tea-party protests had reached Pennsylvania Avenue, the president dismissed the participants as people “waving tea bags around” to protest government spending. But the tea party was not your typical conservative tax revolt. Enraged by plans for the Affordable Care Act, not to mention the ascent of an African-American to the White House, protesters would disrupt town-hall meetings with verbal and sometimes physical violence during the summer of 2009; their cohorts would power the “shellacking” of the Democrats in the midterms a year later and threaten to topple the Republicans’ own congressional leadership.

It was not until the populist left staged its own revolt in the fall of 2011 that Obama acknowledged a bigger picture. “I understand the frustrations being expressed in those protests,” he said of Occupy’s encampment in lower Manhattan. “In some ways, they’re not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the tea party. Both on the left and the right, I think people feel separated from their government. They feel their institutions aren’t looking out for them.”

All true, but there was still more than that going on here: the sense that the entire system was rigged — for the rich and well connected, for globalized corporations, for the Establishments of both parties, for every Wall Street bandit the Obama Justice Department allowed to escape scot-free after the housing bubble burst. Not that Obama was the only leader who failed to recognize either the scale of the populist uprising or his own contribution to it. Had Republican leaders been listening to their own unhappy grass roots during the bruising 2012 primary campaign that yielded Mitt Romney, they might have anticipated the discontent that would boil over after his defeat. Instead, four years later, a rank interloper wiped out a GOP presidential field of 16 that George Will had judged “perhaps the most talent-rich since the party first had a presidential nominee, in 1856.” (Will has since switched his party registration to “unaffiliated.”)

Obama didn’t see that coming either. At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011, the president couldn’t help puncturing the gaseous balloon of Trump, who sat preening before him in a ringside seat, having been invited to the dinner by the Washington Post. Fresh off another round of his birther crusade, Trump had lately been dropping hints about a possible presidential run in New Hampshire and Las Vegas (where he gave a speech referring to the Chinese government as “motherfuckers”). Obama ridiculed the would-be candidate’s “credentials and breadth of experience” by zeroing in on his stewardship of Celebrity Apprentice. The decision to fire Gary Busey over Lil Jon and Meat Loaf, the president joked, “would keep me up at night.”

Trump was not just a big target but a safe one in the Washington Hilton ballroom. Even John Boehner had no qualms about describing him as “crazy” to a Washington Post reporter covering the dinner. The preposterous possibility that this (purported) billionaire could become the tribune of a populist uprising, a voice for the victims of a “rigged” system, was on nobody’s radar screen.

And so as Trump fumed, Obama’s jokes killed. And the morning after, those of us who caught the replay on YouTube joined in the laughter. But five years later, the Populist Putsch remains unchecked, with few voters of any persuasion confident that it will be pacified, let alone addressed, by the next occupant of the White House, no matter what happens on Election Day. Who’s laughing now?

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Photo: Steve Nesius/AP Photo
Jul. 22

WikiLeaks publishes nearly 20,000 stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee. American intelligence officials accuse the Russians.

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Aug. 1

A 12-year-old boy dies of anthrax in Siberia, a minuscule-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things-but-still-heartbreaking-and-also-terrifying moment in our daily reckoning with climate-change catastrophe.

LONGER VIEW

My Climate Panic and Yours

David Wallace-WellsRead

For you, it might have been Superstorm Sandy, when New York went underwater and the specter of total environmental disaster first dislodged Al Qaeda from pride of place among all your apocalyptic-­panic night terrors. For others, it could have been reading about bee colonies in collapse or a generation of crabs dying in water too acidic for them to survive or all those bleached coral reefs off the coast of Australia. Or when they learned that climate change could displace 150 million people by 2050 and sweep more than a million species into extinction.

For me, the moment of sheerest panic and deepest dread was when I read about anthrax released into the Siberian air when thawing permafrost revealed a frozen reindeer, killed by the bacteria 75 years ago at least and now beginning to melt, and about the hundreds of young reindeer killed as a result, and the dozens of nomadic Russians who were hospitalized, and I considered how much more than just warm water would be unleashed from those ice caps by climate change. I hadn’t even known for sure, beforehand, that reindeer were real; now, suddenly, they were facing an end-times too, like the rest of us.

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Aug. 5

Fitbit sells 5.7 million devices, in one quarter alone.

SCIENCE OF US CHAT

What Is the Point of a Quantified Self?

Melissa Dahl, Jesse Singal, Cari RommRead

Melissa Dahl: The Fitbit was introduced at a tech conference eight years ago. It’s kind of incredible to realize that, before then, this idea of the “quantified self” didn’t really exist in the mainstream.

Jesse Singal: I feel like it’s the intersection of all these different trends: Everyone plays video games these days. You got smartphones everywhere. And people are realizing that solutions to the big problems that lead to sleeplessness and anxiety and bad eating — unemployment and income inequality and yada yada yada — aren’t gonna get solved anytime soon.

MD: That’s interesting, because all of this self-tracking is also, according to some physicians, giving people more anxiety! A Fitbit-induced stress vortex.

Cari Romm: It feels like productive stress, though. I’m talking as a recovered Fitbit obsessive, but it does make you look at Fitbit-less people like, “You mean you don’t care how many steps you took today?”

MD: Oh, God. I don’t care. Should I care? Sleep is the one thing I obsessed over for a while. Which does not really help one get to sleep.

JS: Do you think an actually good and not obsession-­inducing sleep app could help, though?

MD: There’s some aspect to the tracking idea that really does work. I mean, it’s just a higher-tech version of a food journal or sleep journal, right? Ben Franklin 300 years ago was tracking his 13 “personal virtues” in his diary.

JS: Would Ben Franklin have been an insufferable tech-bro?

MD: The evidence suggests that he might have been, yes.

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Aug. 30

Obama commutes the sentences of 325 inmates this month, bringing his total to 673, more than the past ten presidents combined.

LIVING IT

Jason Hernandez: Winning the Pardon Lottery

Whose sentence was commuted on December 19, 2013.Read

“I was indicted for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. I was a first-time drug offender — no guns or gangs. Not that that made it right or anything, but I was thinking, Not even real drug dealers get life sentences, there’s no way I’m going to get that much time. I got life without parole.

When I tell you that I put my petition for clemency to the president together like my life depended on it, I did. I knew there were tens of thousands of petitions filed, so I said, How can I make mine stand out? I put a hardback cover on it. I put it in binders, I put tabs. I put a personal letter to the president, pictures of me, all the certificates and awards I got while I was in prison, support letters from preachers, schoolteachers, the officer that put me in prison. Everybody would laugh at me, saying, ‘Come on, man, you know we don’t get that.’ They were saying that minorities don’t get clemency.

Probably about two years later, I’m in the prison and they’re calling for me. I got real nervous, thinking probably that my mother or father passed. Next thing you know, the warden’s like, ‘Your name Jason Hernandez?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And he goes, ‘Well, I’ve got an executive order from the president of the United States, Barack Obama, commuting your sentence of life without parole plus to 20 years.’

Getting a job was hard. Nobody wanted to hire me. Some people would ask how long I was in prison. ‘Nearly 18 years.’ Their eyes would get real big. ‘You were in there for drugs? No, you must have done something else, you’re not being straight with us.’ So I was like, What can I do different? I was in a Time-magazine article, so I brought that and the certificate from the president. So where it says ‘Check the box for criminal history and explain,’ I checked the box and just wrote, ‘I will explain.’ The lady asked, ‘What does this mean?,’ so I showed her the certificate and the article. She called her co-worker, then another co-worker, then everybody’s in there smiling and congratulating me. She said, ‘I’m going to call the manager and put in a word for you. Just come tomorrow so you can start working.’

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Aug. 31

Chicago bleeds. Ninety murders in August alone marks the city’s most violent month in more than two decades.

LIVING IT

Seth Lavin: My Student Corey

A Chicago teacher and principal.Read

“Just after two in the morning on August 7, a 17-year-old boy named Corey was shot in the head on the 300 block of East 130th Street in Chicago. The street where Corey was killed is a lonely one, tucked next to a water-treatment plant maybe six blocks from the Little Calumet River, which is where Chicago ends. It’s near where Corey lived and just a few streets from the elementary school where he was my fifth-grade student.

Corey was brilliant and popular, loved equally by the honor-roll kids and the troublemakers. I was new to teaching then, but even so I could see he was better than I was at motivating the class. He’d finish his own work early to help his friends. One boy finished his first chapter book ever — one of the Magic Tree Houses — because Corey sat with him for a week trading paragraphs as they read the whole thing out loud. Maybe the best description comes from one of Corey’s best friends — another kid from that same fifth-grade class who’s in prison for shooting someone and so wrote a letter that was read at Corey’s funeral. ‘That boy came out of the womb getting A’s and shooting 3’s,’ he wrote. ‘I don’t know how he could be so smart and so stupid at the same time.’

Corey’s story isn’t a simple wrong-place-wrong-time tragedy. I heard that he had a rough few years toward the end of high school. Tougher crowd. Gang rumors. More than 500 people have been killed in Chicago this year already, and many have been children, like Corey. Sometimes the killer is, too. Our police chief said this spring that the average Chicago shooter is 15 or 16 years old. Often the news accounts of a shooting note that the victim was a ‘documented gang member,’ which feels to me like another way of saying the victim deserved it. That he wasn’t innocent. Corey was innocent. Certainly he was in his fifth-grade classroom. And if he became a gang member eight years later, that just makes the story all the more tragic.

I don’t know any veteran teachers here in Chicago who don’t have stories like this one.

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Sep.10

Barack Obama’s approval rating reaches a high not seen in over five years: 58 percent. Perhaps related: Unemployment, now at 4.9 percent, is back
to pre-recession levels.

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Sep. 14

Uber’s “self-driving” taxis pick up their first passengers in Pittsburgh.

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Sep. 30

On the eve of the election, polls suggest Americans are evenly split over who should inherit the presidency.

LONGER VIEW

A Nation in the Midst of a Revolution — But Which One?

Jonathan ChaitRead

The last time voters pondered the end of a two-term Democratic administration, the Republican ran as the candidate of continuity. “We will use these good times for great goals,” George W. Bush promised in 2000, holding himself as a Clinton without adultery — a president who would “restore honor and dignity to the White House.” Sixteen years later, the Republican campaign has taken an apocalyptic tone, and the presidential race has become an operatic, astonishing battle over the very identity of the republic.

Donald Trump is running against a country he depicts as crumbling into decay and ubiquitous violence, and his erratic public displays appear not only tolerable to many voters but are actually celebrated, as they signal the most dramatic possible change from the status quo. He joins the entire Republican Party in unmitigated opposition to Barack Obama’s presidency. He distinguishes himself by making shockingly explicit the reactionary cultural attitudes that drive this opposition. His loud and repeated questioning of the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate; his call for Penn State University to restore the statue of Joe Paterno; his welcoming of Roger Ailes into his inner circle — this is all an attempt to restore a domineering form of white-male authority that is swiftly receding from the broader society.

Hillary Clinton is not promising to radically reshape America, but her election would be further evidence that America is radically reshaping itself. Take the play Hamilton, which supplies a new vision of American history, lionizing its urban, immigrant, pro-government protagonist, and presents its vision through a mostly non-white cast. A recent poll found that, among Americans who have either seen the play or listened to its soundtrack, Clinton leads Trump by more than two to one.

Over the past eight years, Obama has led this country through a convulsive social transformation, one that is now being litigated, on the campaign trail, by avatars of two very different Americas. How much change — and of what kind — do we really want? The answer will become clear in five weeks.

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INTERVIEWS BY: Rembert Browne, Jonathan Chait, Marin Cogan, Gabriel Sherman, Nick Tabor, Alexa Tsoulis-Reay, James Walsh, and Jason Zengerle

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY: Gabe Cohn, Ian Epstein, Edward Hart, Jordan Larson, David Rossler, Clint Rainey, and Katy Schneider


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