Ellen Degeneres’ selfie thumped Barack Obama’s ‘Four More Years’ tweet as the most prevalent tweet ever Sunday night throughout the Oscars.
The entertainer, furnished with her Samsung telephone, assembled a couple of her closest companions (read: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jlaw) and snapped a pic. The retweets immediately included. Inside 30 minutes it was nearing Barack Obama’s record of 778,800.
At that point, a couple of minutes after the fact, it happened. Inside the hour, the tweet might happen to surpass one million retweets, making it far and past the most-retweeted tweet ever.
Mark Obama Ndesandjo said he was surprised to hear his half-brother President Barack Obama say they had only recently met for the first time.
“I was floored by it — I don’t know why he said it,” Ndesandjo said to Laura Ingraham, adding that he had met the president several times over the years and still isn’t sure what his motivation was for making the claim. “I think he was being president and was not being my brother,” Ndesandjo said.
From their first meeting, which took place in the 1980s in Kenya, where he lived as an American ex-pat, Ndesandjo said both he and the president had different views: Ndesandjo was trying to distance himself from his father and his father’s name, while Obama was looking to further embrace his father’s roots.
When Ingraham pointed out that Obama doesn’t spend very much time with his extended family and seems to prefer the company of celebrities such as Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Ndesandjo said she “had a point.” Ndesandjo, who has a book coming out in February, said ultimately that he isn’t very political and tends to focus on “the art side.”
(CNN) — This month, one of the least merciful presidents in the history of the United States granted 13 pardons and eight commutations of sentence. The grants moved President Barack Obama’s overall mark past the administrations of John Adams (who served only one term), William H. Harrison (who died of pneumonia after serving only 30 days), James Garfield (who was fatally wounded by an assassin after serving only four months) and George Washington.
The New York Times complained that, when it came to the pardon power, there was just “no excuse” for Obama’s “lack of compassion” and encouraged him to “do much more.” The American Civil Liberties Union called the pardons “a step” and hoped the President would “continue to exercise his clemency powers.” Meanwhile, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, lamented the “drought” of pardons in the Obama administration and called the recent grants “mingy and belated.” Conservative columnist Debra Saunders wrote that it was “about time” Obama acted, and even tossed out the possibility/hope that he might “do it again soon.”
While it is true that Obama’s grants included no one comparable to Scooter Libby, or Marc Rich, much less President Richard Nixon, the intensity and commonality of reactions is noteworthy. Political executives — presidents and governors — may not be quite aware of or in tune with it just yet, but the times, they are a-changing.
P.S. Ruckman, Jr.
No one is clamoring for violent criminals to be yanked out of prisons and tossed into the streets to wreak havoc on society. No one is lusting for the considered judgment of judges and juries to be whimsically overturned by politicians leaving office and, in the process, sidestepping accountability.
But, increasingly, there is recognition that budgets are tight, and prisons are both overcrowded and expensive. The recidivism of those who spend time in prisons and exit without anything like serious rehabilitation is also costly. Congress’ recent recognition of the failure (if not outright unjust nature) of sentencing laws appears, to many, as still yet another indicator that there is consensus regarding the status of the so-called war on drugs: It has not worked out very well.
Judges have complained loudly about mandatory minimum and three-strikes laws which have limited their ability to tailor punishments to fit crimes — a basic notion of justice. Public opinion polls also suggest Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with over-criminalization in the law.
The pardon power will always carry an inherent political “risk,” because no one can perfectly predict the future behavior of recipients and everyone’s judgment can be second-guessed, if not mischaracterized. Informed persons know Mike Huckabee did not “pardon” Maurice Clemmons and Michael Dukakis did not “pardon” Willie Horton. But, of course, executives cannot always survive political storms with the support and encouragement of informed persons.
Nonetheless, the Founding Fathers considered the pardon power an integral part of our system of separation of powers and checks and balances. Its presence in the Constitution is premised on the notion that Congress and the Courts are not always perfect. Anyone care to disagree? It simply follows that, if the pardon power is being neglected or abused, then government is not doing what it was meant to do.
Alexander Hamilton furthermore noted, in the Federalist Papers, that the criminal codes of nations have an almost natural tendency toward over-severity. For that reason, he argued, there should be easy access to mercy. Yes, you read that right, “easy access,” or, in other words, something very different than what is going on in the Obama administration.
The fortunate thing is, presidents and governors can very easily minimize the political “risk” of pardoning by granting pardons regularly, consistently, throughout terms, as opposed to, very questionably, at the “last minute.”
While Christmas pardons may make some feel warm and fuzzy, they also send a message that is more counterproductive than anything. They seem to say mercy is an afterthought, or worse, a gift, that may or may not be deserved.
The fact of the matter is the majority of individual acts of executive clemency in our lifetime have been pardons, which simply restored the civil rights of the recipients. No one was sprung from jail. Violent criminals were not tossed into the streets. Judges and juries were not overturned. Recipients have typically committed minor offenses, many involving no incarceration whatsoever, and usually, many years if not decades before pardon. FBI background checks documented they had integrated back into society as law-abiding productive members. Their pardons were not “gifts” so much as they were well deserved recognition.
Have these pardons been high-wire maneuvers? Have they required presidents to spend precious political capital? Not at all. Obama has granted 52 pardons to date. There is a much better than average chance that readers cannot name a single recipient. George W. Bush granted almost 200.
So, why can’t Obama restore the civil rights of more applicants? Why doesn’t he? There is no obvious answer to that question, save lack of care and concern. Where is the President who said his religion teaches him the importance of redemption and second chances? Where is the hope?
Advocates have been quietly pushing the idea of a CEO who would set marketplace rules, coordinate with insurers and state regulators on the health plans offered for sale, supervise enrollment campaigns and oversee technology, according to several sources familiar with discussions between advocates and the Obama administration.
Supporters of the idea say it could help regain the trust of insurers and others whose confidence in the healthcare overhaul has been shaken by the technological woes that crippled the federal HealthCare.gov insurance shopping website and the flurry of sometimes-confusing administration rule changes that followed.
The advocates include former White House adviser Ezekiel Emanuel, the brother of President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and the Center for American Progress, the Washington think tank founded by John Podesta, the president’s newly appointed senior counselor.
The White House is not embracing the idea of creating a CEO, administration officials said.
“This isn’t happening. It’s not being considered,” a senior administration official told Reuters.
Some healthcare reform allies say the complexity of the federal marketplace requires a CEO-type figure with clear authority and knowledge of how insurance markets work.
Obama’s healthcare overhaul aims to provide health coverage to millions of uninsured or under-insured Americans by offering private insurance at federally subsidized rates through new online health insurance marketplaces in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C.
Only 14 states opted to create and operate their own exchanges, leaving the Obama administration to operate a federal marketplace for the remaining 36 states that can be accessed through HealthCare.gov.
The marketplace is now officially the responsibility of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its administrator, Marilyn Tavenner. Healthcare experts say there is no specific official dedicated to running the operation.
A CMS spokesman said exchange functions overlap across different groups within the agency’s Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.
The lack of a clear decision-making hierarchy was identified as a liability months before the disastrous October 1 launch of HealthCare.gov by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
Obama adviser Jeffrey Zients, who rescued the website from crippling technical glitches last month, also identified the lack of effective management as a problem.
POTENTIAL CEO CANDIDATES
Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene has replaced Zients as website manager, at least through the first half of 2014.
“We’re fortunate that Kurt DelBene is now part of the administration – there’s no one better able to help us keep moving forward to make affordable, quality health insurance available to as many Americans as possible,” Obama healthcare adviser Phil Schiliro said in a statement to Reuters.
The White House appears, for now, to be concentrating on ironing out the remaining glitches in HealthCare.gov to ensure millions more people are able to sign up for coverage in 2014. Good enrollment numbers are seen by both critics and supporters of Obamacare as a key measure of the program’s success.
“So my sense is that they’re not thinking about appointing a CEO in the short term,” said Topher Spiro, a healthcare analyst with the Center for American Progress.
The CEO proposal calls for removing day-to-day control of the marketplace from the CMS bureaucracy and placing it under a leadership structure like those used in some of the more successful state-run marketplaces, including California.
The new team would be managed by a CEO, or an executive director, who would run the marketplace like a business and answer directly to the White House, sources familiar with the discussions say.
They point to insurance industry and healthcare veterans as potential candidates, including former Aetna CEO Ronald Williams, former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson and Jon Kingsdale, who ran the Massachusetts health exchange established under former Governor Mitt Romney‘s 2006 healthcare reforms. None of the three was available for comment.
Healthcare experts say the idea should have been taken up by the administration years ago.
“It’s the right thing to do. It’s just two years late,” said Mike Leavitt, the Republican former Utah governor who oversaw the rollout of the prescription drug program known as Medicare Part D as U.S. health and human services secretary under President George W. Bush.
“The administration is confronted by a series of problems they cannot solve on their own. They do not possess internally the competencies or the exposure or the information,” he told Reuters.
Emanuel, one of the administration’s longest-standing allies on healthcare reform, recommended a marketplace CEO in an October 22 Op-Ed article in the New York Times, calling it one of five things the White House could do to fix Obamacare.
“The candidate should have management experience, knowledge of how both the government and health insurance industry work, and at least some familiarity with IT (information technology) systems. Obviously this is a tall order, but there are such people. And the administration needs to hire one immediately,” he wrote.
The administration has adopted Emanuel’s four other recommendations: better window-shopping features for HealthCare.gov; a concerted effort to win back public trust; a focus on the customer shopping experience; and a public outreach campaign to engage young adults.
(Reporting by David Morgan in Washington; Editing by Karey Van Hall, Michele Gershberg, Ross Colvin and Will Dunham)
“Our HealthCare.gov enrollment nearly doubled in the days before the January 1 coverage deadline compared to the first few weeks of the month,” she said. “December enrollment so far is over 7 times that of October and November. In part, this was because we met our marks on improving HealthCare.gov: the site supported 83,000 concurrent users on December 23rd alone.”
Tavenner said administration officials expect to see enrollment ramp up through the six-month open enrollment period, “much like other historic implementation efforts we’ve seen in Massachusetts and Medicare Part D.”
Detailed demographics were not released.
“The data does show that less healthy people are signing up. Younger people are signing up less frequently than hoped,” former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) said Sunday on “Fox News Sunday.”
“There’s no question that, over this past weekend, Monday, and Tuesday, HealthCare.gov met the mark and did exactly what it was supposed to do–helping Americans from across the country find secure, quality health insurance coverage at an affordable price,” CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said in a statement.
Bataille said that in the four days leading up to the Dec. 24 enrollment deadline, response times averaged half a second, and error rates were at less than 1 percent.
–Jonathan Easley contributed to this report, which was originally published at 7:16 a.m. and last updated at 11:14 a.m.
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Social news hub Reddit snagged an interview with Barack Obama last year. The big get for 2013 was reaching 90 million unique visitors a month, according to the company, on par with the likes of eBay. This season, even Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates joined its Secret Santa gift exchange.
Now, the self-dubbed “Front Page of the Internet” is going for a milestone it has been trying to reach since its founding in 2005: profitability.
After years of fitful experiments with paid subscriptions and display advertising, Reddit, with just 28 employees, has begun pouring resources into building an electronic bazaar.
Company executives say they increasingly believe such a venue is the answer to their long search for reliable revenue, complicated in part by their fans’ mistrust of advertising.
If Reddit Gifts, as the burgeoning bazaar is known, brings sustainable profitability, it would mark a turning point for an outfit that has exerted an outsized and sometimes controversial influence on Internet culture yet languished financially.
Reddit estimates over 250,000 items have been purchased over the holiday, mostly as part of the 50 or so mostly geek-oriented Secret Santa gift exchanges – where zombie- or fantasy-themed presents, say, change hands – that users have created.
Although Reddit won’t disclose details about how much money it has made from Reddit Gifts or its overall financial performance, it takes a 15 to 20 percent cut of every purchase.
Usually priced between $10 and $25, the goods reflect Reddit’s young and geeky user base, from collages of cats in steampunk apparel to coffee mugs branded by Imgur.com, a repository of funny Web pictures, to an entire category dedicated to bacon-related products. More than 250 merchants supply gifts curated and “up-voted” by the community, much as articles and links are elevated on the Reddit site itself.
‘JUST GROW THINGS’
The gift exchange made headlines this month after Gates signed up and surprised a Reddit user by sending her a travel book and a stuffed cow, symbol of the charity he donated to in her name.
The company, which is hoping to position itself as a bona fide shopping destination year-round, estimates that only 14 percent of its marketplace revenue comes from the Christmas-season gift exchange programs.
Yet those sales alone could put Reddit firmly in the black, said Dan McComas, the head of Reddit Gifts. He added that the company may choose to reinvest funds in e-commerce customer service and infrastructure.
Chief Executive Yishan Wong, a former Facebook executive, said Reddit was “kind of” breaking even and denied that pressure was mounting on his team to turn a profit.
In 2011, Reddit was spun out as an independently operated subsidiary by corporate parent Conde Nast, an old-line magazine empire best known for publishing Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker. Industry observers surmised at the time that the move was a step toward eventually selling off a stake to outside investors.
“Our backers are saying, ‘Don’t worry about making money, just keep money and grow things,'” Wong said in an interview. “But I would like Reddit to be self-sustaining because I think that’s a healthy way for a business to run. It means that what you’re doing provides real value, and Reddit Gifts is so promising because it can do that.”
Wong said he saw potential in Gifts earlier this year and began staffing up the effort to eight people.
Although Wong is giddy about Gifts’ impact on its finances, what scale the business could reach remains unclear. Wong said he did not envision Reddit posing a threat to folksy arts and crafts e-tailers like Etsy; Reddit could carve out a space with a geekier sensibility.
“I don’t believe in going after someone else’s market, but going after a new market of our own could be huge by itself,” Wong said.
THE NICHE FACTOR
Facebook struggled for years to develop a marketplace because its users aren’t in a shopping mindset when they log on.
The same could be said for Reddit, known for its forums on politics or technology rather than for deals or flash sales, said Krista Garcia, an analyst at eMarketer, a consulting firm. A media company that enters the e-commerce business may also be caught off guard by the complexities of logistics or customer service, she added.
“Reddit and commerce is an odd pairing, but there is more potential there versus Facebook because it’s more niche,” Garcia said. “I could see them tapping into a much more passionate audience. They need to bring the right products and merchandise that’s unusual or unique.”
Reddit’s place at the vanguard of Internet culture – where jokes and memes gain traction alongside political debates or discussions of breaking news – is also far from assured in a fickle Web arena. Rivals like Digg.com have rapidly declined.
The site’s hands-off attitude toward content has drawn criticism, particularly about some loosely moderated forums where, for example, pictures of women being beaten are freely disseminated.
Reddit’s reputation also suffered after forum members mistakenly identified a missing Brown University student as a suspect in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The rumor, which was recirculated by mainstream journalists, blazed across Twitter before authorities said they were seeking Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Conde Nast acquired Reddit for a reported $20 million in 2006 but largely left it running independently for five years, as its viewership ballooned fivefold.
ComScore estimates it drew 21.7 million unique desktop visitors in November, up from 8.7 million a year ago. Reddit’s own estimate is more than four times that.
The company struggled for years to find a suitable business model because its community identified with an antiestablishment ethos and distrusted heavy advertising, Wong said.
Reddit Gifts was born in 2009 as an independent project created by McComas, a software developer and longtime Reddit user. He was brought on in 2011, and with Wong’s blessing has been hiring staff to work out of an $800-a-month apartment in Salt Lake City.
Unlike Reddit’s sometimes laissez-faire approach to moderating its forums, Reddit Gifts will be curated to be “family friendly” as it grows, said McComas, who envisioned limiting the number of merchants to give them more individual exposure.
Brian Linss, a former Yahoo technician who lives near Portland, said he has supported himself making TV- and film-inspired artwork since he began selling on Reddit six months ago.
While he was able to make $1,500 to $2,000 during a “great” month on Etsy, Linss said he now makes four times as much in a good month, where his posters about the hit cable series “Breaking Bad” move swiftly.
“Reddit is trying to assemble those merchants, and I think there’s a huge gap in the market for it,” Linss said. “People that didn’t have access to that geek culture before now have an easy portal to things that they’re not going to find at their local retailer.”
(Editing by Edwin Chan, Martin Howell and Prudence Crowther)
Here’s how it works when a big company believes that its power is in its girth: They enter this bizarre world that leads them to believe that what comes from their PR organs is enough to float their troubles away. It’s all about denial and avoiding any potential shareholder backlash. And so we come to the sad state of affairs at RSA, the security division of EMC, one of the big-bellied enterprise kings that apparently made a deal with the National Security Agency.
It’s a deal that is now affecting the trust that people have in the company and raises questions about other technology companies and how they have profited from their relationships with the government. It’s fine enough for technology executives to sit down with President Barack Obama like they did last week and say how awful the NSA is behaving. But the RSA’s work with the NSA shows that technology companies need scrutiny as well. The reality: mistrust is spreading, writes security expert Bruce Schneier.
I think about this all the time with respect to our IT systems and the NSA. Even though we don’t know which companies the NSA has compromised — or by what means — knowing that they could have compromised any of them is enough to make us mistrustful of all of them. This is going to make it hard for large companies like Google and Microsoft to get back the trust they lost. Even if they succeed in limiting government surveillance. Even if they succeed in improving their own internal security. The best they’ll be able to say is: “We have secured ourselves from the NSA, except for the parts that we either don’t know about or can’t talk about.”
There’s proof that RSA made a deal with the NSA to use the spy agency’s random number generator as the preferred or default formula in Bsafe, its software for enhancing security on personal computers and other technologies, Reuters reports. This has put RSA in the bright light of scrutiny. The $10 million deal looks especially bad, considering the connection it has to documents released by Edward Snowden and reported by the New York Times in September. In those documents it was revealed that the NSA formula was actually flawed and had been used by the NSA to create a backdoor into encryption products.
RSA said in a blog post on Monday that it does not ”ever divulges details of customer engagements, but we also categorically state that we have never entered into any contract or engaged in any project with the intention of weakening RSA’s products, or introducing potential ‘backdoors’ into our products for anyone’s use.” But many in the security profession are just not buying it. Here’s a tidbit from an awesome rant and good summary of what happened from Melissa Elliott, a security analyst and novelist:
September 2013: Revelations derived from the Snowden leak show* that Dual EC is definitely deliberately backdoored by the NSA. RSA acts really surprised. RSA offers some weak excuse that elliptic curves were totally hip (literally in vogue) at the time. RSA does not mention anything about taking anyone’s money. Allegations are posted that an unspecified company accepted ten million dollars to make it their default. Everyone paying attention is pretty sure it’s RSA. (* Full disclosure: smart people disagree with the smoking-gunness of Dual EC being called out specifically by the leak. It’s complicated.)
December 2013: Reuters points to RSA specifically regarding the ten million dollars. RSA issues a non-denial of such magnitude that I’m driven to rage blog.
The denial makes their predicament worse than it now is. It has even led to a backlash. Mikko Hypponen, chief of research at F-Secure, announced this week in an open letter to EMC Chairman Joe Tucci that he would not participate in the RSA’s annual lavish conference slated for February in San Francisco. Hypponen is a well-respected security expert who had planned to lead a talk titled: “Governments as Malware Authors.”
It’s clear that the actions of RSA and EMC have cast a shadow across the IT world. Until now, it has been the NSA that has been perceived as the true force of darkness, worming its way into systems to monitor our data streams. Now we see a side of the business that is more intertwined with the NSA and by proxy, its agenda for spying.