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1. Maya Angelou Honored by Michelle Obama, Oprah & Bill Clinton

Over the weekend, friends and family gathered at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. to honor the author and poet Maya Angelou, who passed away in May. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama were among the featured speakers at the event. We've embedded the video for you to watch.

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2. 35 years: the best of C-SPAN

By Kate Pais


The Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, better known as C-SPAN, has been airing the day-to-day activities of the US Congress since 1979 — 35 years as of this week. Now across three different channels, C-SPAN has provided the American public easy access to politics in action, and created a new level of transparency in public life. Inspired by Tom Allen’s Dangerous Convictions: What’s Really Wrong with the U.S. Congress, let’s take a look at the most notable events C-SPAN has captured on film to be remembered and reviewed.

Jimmy Carter opposes the invasion of Afghanistan

President Carter denounces the Soviet Union and their choice to invade Afghanistan in January 1980 as a warning to others in Southwest Asia.

The start of Reaganomics

Known for his economic influence, this is Ronald Reagan’s first address to both houses in February 1981.

Bill Clinton: “I did not sleep with that woman”

Slipped into a speech on children’s education in January 1998, this clip shows President Clinton addressing allegations about his affair with Monica Lewinsky for the first time.

Al Gore’s Concession Speech

After the long and controversial count during the 2000 Presidential Election, candidate and former vice-president Al Gore concedes to George Bush on December 13, 2000.

George W. Bush addresses 9/11

President Bush speaks to a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001 about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon nine days prior.

Kate Pais joined Oxford University Press in April 2013 and works as an online marketing coordinator.

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The post 35 years: the best of C-SPAN appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Hillary Clinton Reads ‘The Makers’ by Howard Nemerov

In honor of National Poetry Month, we’ve dug up a video of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reciting Howard Nemerov‘s poem, “The Makers.”

Clinton, who at the time was serving as First Lady, recorded this video for “The Favorite Poem Project” in 1999. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, also participated in this project. This project was founded by the 39th poet laureate of the United States, Robert Pinsky. Altogether, 50 short documentaries were recorded for this video series.

In past, Clinton wrote and published several books including the 1996 nonfiction title It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us and the 2003 memoir Living History. At the moment, speculations and rumors are circulating about the new book Clinton plans to pen. What do you think?

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4. What I Learned from Bill Clinton: How to Prepare Yourself for the Future

“If you can do one thing to prepare yourself for the future… you should spend as much time as you can with people who are different than you”. — President Bill Clinton

I recently had the opportunity to join Kyle Zimmer, First Book’s president and CEO, at a special event for the Thea Foundation. Founded by Linda and Paul Leopoulos shortly after the untimely death of their daughter Thea Kay, the Thea Foundation connects young people to the power of visual art, dance, drama, and creative writing across Arkansas and beyond.

At First Book we’re eager to learn from the success of the Thea Foundation and we hope to work with Linda, Paul and others to help bring the arts to life for all students, regardless of their economic situations, including the hundreds of thousands of children in First Book’s national network of low-income classrooms and programs.

Thea Kay Leopoulos

Thea Kay Leopoulos (photo from theafoundation.org)

We know that it can make a profound difference. Paul and Linda shared Thea’s story — a typical one for many 17-year-old girls, making C’s and D’s and disliking school.

But by the end of her junior year, Thea was making A’s and B’s in difficult subjects (an A in Trigonometry!) and loving school. As they came to terms with losing their daughter, Linda and Paul sought to understand what happened in Thea’s life that caused such a drastic academic transformation.

The answer: her new involvement in visual art, dance, drama and creative writing. This made all the difference for Thea; an idea strongly supported by research.

Chandler Arnold and Kyle Zimmer of First Book with Bill Clinton

Chandler Arnold, Bill Clinton & Kyle Zimmer celebrating the Thea Foundation

Among the educators, entrepreneurs, and arts supporters that night was President Bill Clinton, a longtime supporter of the powerful organization. Over dinner Kyle and I were able to speak with the President about a range of topics, from Thea (who the president knew well) to the Clinton Global Initiative.

The thing I’ll remember most? The President’s advice to an eight-year-old over dinner: “If you can do one thing to prepare yourself for the future… you should spend as much time as you can with people who are different than you”.

Wise advice for all of us; eight-year-olds and grown-ups alike.

Kyle also asked him if Hillary would be running for President in a few years, but we’ll keep his answer to ourselves.

NOTE: We are grateful for the generosity of Dr. Martha Bernadett of the Molina Foundation for making our participation in this event possible.

Chandler Arnold is First Book’s executive vice president.

The post What I Learned from Bill Clinton: How to Prepare Yourself for the Future appeared first on First Book Blog.

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5. Lack of Diversity in Kids’ Books and How to Fix It

The lack of diversity in children’s literature is a problem that affects all children, especially children from low-income families, who rarely see themselves, their families or their communities in the stories they read.

Lack of diversity in kids' booksThe problem is real. In a study last year, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center reviewed thousands of kids’ books, and found that:

  • only 3.3 percent were about African-Americans
  • only 2.1 percent were about Asian-Pacific Americans
  • only 1.5 percent were about Latinos
  • a mere 0.6 percent were about American Indians.

The teachers, librarians, mentors and program leaders we work with tell us time and again that one of the biggest challenges they face in helping kids become strong readers is the lack of stories featuring heroes and experiences they can relate to.

First Book's Commitment to ActionToday, at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative America (CGI America) meeting, hosted by President Bill Clinton, I announced First Book’s commitment to create a sustainable solution to this problem by dramatically expanding the market for diversity in children’s literature through The Stories for All Project.

First Book aggregates the voices — and purchasing power — of thousands of educators and program leaders who serve families at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Through The Stories for All Project, we’re showing the publishing industry that there is a strong, viable and vibrant market out there for books like these.

One more important thing: This isn’t just about kids from African-American or Hispanic families being able to read stories about characters who look like them. All kids should have access to stories featuring diverse characters, to see the world in all its true rich variety.  We’re creating this market in order to make diverse content available to kids from low-income families, but once that content exists, it’s available for everyone.

First Book is truly eager to collaborate with everyone interested in  really changing this landscape for all kids.

Add your name to First Book’s email list to recieve occasional updates about The Stories for All Project and other ways to get new books into the hands of kids in need.

The post Lack of Diversity in Kids’ Books and How to Fix It appeared first on First Book Blog.

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6. South Africa, NEH Grant, Townships, the power of stories, and other dreams...

I just realized I haven't blogged since June 1. That is partly due to the fact that I could NOT blog in South Africa. I barely had internet, and when I did, the blog clogged the airwaves and crashed, so after multiple attempts, I gave up.

Let it also be known that every night now, I dream of South Africa.

My only week in Minnesota since May 18 was a bit hectic. Now I am in North Carolina at Nikki, Tom, and Alec's house, but Alec is sleeping, so here goes.

Yesterday morning, Nikki, Alec, and I had a delightful short morning at Noelle, Tony, and Maren's house in Arlington, Virginia, before we headed to Pennsylvania Avenue.

There I met Julia Nguyen, Senior Program Officer, Division of Education Programs, at the National Endowment for the Humanities Office in the historic Old Post Office complex. (Nikki and Alec went to the National Museum of Natural History).


Julia was entirely helpful and supportive of the ideas Scott Fee (Construction Management, MSU,M, now newly appointed Interim Assistant Dean in the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology) have cooked up. We want to apply for a big NEH grant for "Bridging Cultures" at Community Colleges...which also requires a Community College to be in collaboration with another institution. Seems as if this might have been written for what we are working toward.

I won't belabor all our plans here, but they do include bringing Prof Kobus van Wyk (below) to Mankato to speak at a conference at South Central College. Kobus is the endowed chair of the brand-new department of Human Settlement Development Management at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. This department has a focus of somehow revamping the rebuilding the townships while giving full consideration to human needs (safety, education, health, transportation, etc., etc. which all relate to Humanities).


Our approach to this grant is that stories are the medium that move information from our head to our hearts and move us to action.  Stories are what the Humanities convey--through art, music, literature, film, history, architecture, etc., etc. Stories about South Africa all end up leading us to the townships. THERE, in the townships, the Humanities converge with the Built Environment.

If you don't know, townships exist in every urban area of South Africa, and a version exists in most rural areas, too. Townships are the legacy of apartheid. Apartheid means "separateness" in Afrikaans. When segregation was forced because the Afrikaner government under the Nationalist Party believed that races could only thrive while separated (I can't even begin to comment on this outrageously horrific idea), non-white citizens were forced into specified areas and couldn't leave without passbooks...similar to passports but necessary for traveling outside the neighborhood.

Now the townships still exist, with vast overpopulation and poverty. BUT look at the joy and sense of community. As we walked through Vlei ("Swamp") Township on the edge of Cape Town, these kids were dancing their hearts out. The oldest boy drummed with amazing skill on an old washtub. The mamas were busy cooking. Joy and hope and community have NOTHING to do with affluence.

We all know that the one thing that can break down prejudice is meeting a specific person from the group against which we hold a prejudice (Think about the movie American History X). Stories do the same thing. STORIES help us meet individual people, help us empathize,  force us to understand oppression and misfortune; stories change our attitudes about "others."

We believe that South Africa is a microcosm that is a metaphor for the world.  South Africa is the site of one (not unlike the Holocaust) of the worst legalized systems of oppression in the world. There is racism of every type, and not only black/white conflict but between the "White tribes" (Afrikaners/Boers and English) themselves, East Indians, many other Asian groups, "colored," and more. There is also some of the most joyful, colorful hope in the universe, despite oppression.

When "Madiba"--Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela retired from the South African presidency, President Clinton said the following:

"In every gnarly, knotted, distorted situation in the world where people are kept from becoming the best they can be, there is an apartheid of the heart. And if we really honor this stunning sacrifice of twenty-seven year, if we really rejoice in the infinite justice of seeing this man happily married in the autumn of his life, if we really are seeking some driven wisdom from the poser of his example, it will be to do whatever we can, however we can, wherever we can, to take the apartheid out of our own and others' hearts."



That's what we want to do with this grant. Present some opportunities to explore how learning about South Africa can help us all eliminate APARTHEID OF THE HEART.

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7. Article 2 of the Constitution is a Paradoxical Thing

By Elvin Lim


These are deliquescent days in Washington. As the Democratic party works out a deal to keep both Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn in the leadership hierarchy, and the Republican party takes stock of what it means to welcome 35 new Tea Party members into its caucus, the President must be wondering, what now?

Pat Caddell and Douglas Schoen are advising Obama to not seek re-election. Others are simply predicting a one-term presidency whether or not Obama likes it.

But these grim prognostications are pre-mature, if only because most presidents have been able to marshal their incumbent benefits to win a second term in office. When David Axelrod exits the White House in January and passes the baton over to David Plouffe, the White House will go into full campaign mode. These guys do not like losing, and they have one thing going for them: the best self-promoter the business has ever seen.

Team Obama will have a few other things going for them. First, they no longer have to set the agenda. Whereas for the last two years, the White House has acted and the Republican party has reacted, a role reversal is about to happen. And one of the rules of American politics is that s/he who sets the agenda gets the blame when the constitution’s multiple veto points invariably alters or derails the agenda. Second, now that the House will be controlled by the Republicans, Obama will be able to do what presidents do best: assign blame to the inefficient First Branch and take things into his own hands. Presidential discretion is a very powerful thing and it is especially powerful when the president’s hand appears to be forced by an uncooperative House. Third, as Nancy Pelosi is likely to remain the leader of the Democrats in the House, she can continue to be the lightning rod for conservative critics (and proof to the liberal base that the Democratic party made a good-faith effort to be true to its progressive principles), while the president will be freed to perform the role of bipartisan leader so that he can try to win back the independent voters who have lost their love for him.

There is no reliable litmus test for Obama’s re-electability until a credible Republican alternative is placed before the electorate. No such person exists right now – not even Sarah Palin, who seems newly interested in the job, but who is likely only to remain a fundraiser and kingmaker, but not the successful candidate, because she is even more polarizing than Hillary Clinton was in 2008. In the months ahead, the Republican party will take up the challenge of reconciling itself with the principles of Tea party libertarianism, and the party’s success in 2012 will turn in large part on its ability to complete this reconciliation before the primary season of 2012 begins.

All told, the American presidency is strongest when it is weakest and weakest when it is strongest. Think of Bill Clinton when he was being impeached, or George Bush when he declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. Obama was weakest when he stood triumphantly before Corinthian pillars made of styrofoam and now that he has been humbled, no longer over-estimated, and indeed condemned to a single term, he is more likely than not to rise phoenix-like. Such is the nature of prerogative.

As historians begin to examine President Bush’s newly released memoir, Obama should take heed that if history has not yet been written for his predecessor, then it has certainly not been written for him.

Elvin Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of

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8. More sound than fury in the budget battles ahead

By Elvin Lim


The strategic gamesmanship leading up to the budget compromise that was reached late last week suggests a blueprint for the budget battles to come. But while many observers believe that Washington is bracing for even more epic battles to come, when Congress considers the budget for the rest of the fiscal year and legislation to raise the debt ceiling, my guess is that there will be more sabre-rattling than a serious effort to avoid raising the debt ceiling. Here are three reasons why.

First, even Democrats agree that cuts are necessary, and even Republicans know that deep cuts are difficult. There will be collusion to fight, but not necessarily to disagree. Certainly, Republicans and Tea Partiers still enjoying the honeymoon from last November’s elections have successfuly set the frame of “spending cuts” such that Democrats have been forced to fight the battle on Republican turf. But everyone already accepts that the federal government has to rein in its spending. Now, Republicans will have to take their pick between fiscal restraint and their social agenda. So far they have been consistent in prioritizing the former, for when push came to shove, even Senator Tom Coburn dropped his insistence on the Planned Parenthood rider. For Democrats, the question is not whether they can beat Republicans at their own game and propose a bigger budget slash than Republicans want, but whether they can reset the political agenda, postpone the issue, or talk about something else. Both sides however, will be sure to start off each new debate with maximal bluster and deliberately over-reach, so as to win the maximal concession from the other side and to achieve a final resting point closest to one’s original pre-bluster preference.

Second, last week revealed that neither side wants to risk the political fallout of a government shut-down. Conventional wisdom holds that Bill Clinton was the net political winner when Republicans forced a government shutdown in 1995 and 1996. Last week, even Tea Partiers revealed their interest in seeing government work, not shut down. The budget talks were the first real test of the Tea Party in government, the first test of Speaker Boehner’s ability to unite a diverse group of freshmen and veteran Republican congressmen, and the first test of President Obama’s ability to reconcile Democrats and Republicans after his announcement to seek a second presidential term. Because nobody wants to risk appearing obstructionist, the irony of divided party control in Washington – which was the case the last time a president managed to balance the budget – is that it may well prove to be more constructive than gridlocked in the short-term. The long run, of course, is a different matter. Nobody in Washington thinks about that.

Third, while Democrats are hailing the $38 billion cut in spending they acceded to as the biggest real spending cut in history, the fact is this amount represents 12 percent of the amount (about $300 billion) we would have to cut from the budget so that Congress would not have to raise the public debt ceiling of $14.294 trillion, which The Treasury Department expects we will hit in about a month. Not even Congressman Paul Ryan or Senator Marco Rubio have proposed plans aggressive enough to save us $300 billion in one month. When politicians make the most noise, then we know that they are interested more in the semblance of trying than confident in the possibility of a solution.

If the last ten years, in which we have raised the debt ceiling ten times, is any guide, it is very likely that we are going to have to raise the debt ceiling, if not the US government would not be able to raise money to fund its operati

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9. Book Review Podcast: L.B.J. in the White House

Robert Caro discusses "The Passage of Power," his latest book about Lyndon Johnson.

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10. Paul Ryan and the evolution of the vice presidency

By Edward Zelinsky


By selecting Representative Paul Ryan as the Republican vice presidential nominee, Romney confirmed the decline of the traditional role of vice presidential candidates as providers of geographic balance. Ryan’s selection reinforces the shift to a more policy-oriented definition of the vice presidency. This shift reflects the nationalization of our culture and politics and the increased importance of the general election debate between vice presidential candidates.

Traditionally, a vice presidential candidate usually came from a large swing state in a section of the country removed from the presidential candidate’s home state. The classic (and most successful) instance of this once conventional pattern was John Kennedy’s selection in 1960 of Lyndon Johnson as Kennedy’s running mate. Johnson was picked to deliver the electoral votes of Texas and other southern states to a ticket headed by a candidate from Massachusetts. It worked.

A generation later, another Democratic presidential nominee from Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, emulated Kennedy by selecting as his vice presidential nominee Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen. This time it didn’t work, but the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket fell well within the tradition of geographic balancing.

The new, policy-oriented pattern commenced in the next election in 1992 when Bill Clinton of Arkansas named as his running mate the senator from next door, Tennessee’s Al Gore. In terms of geographic balance, a Clinton-Gore ticket made no sense — two southerners from neighboring states.

Clinton saw the role of the vice president differently. Gore possessed Washington experience and connections Clinton lacked. Gore thus provided, not geographic balance, but national experience and expertise. This departure from traditional geographic ticket balancing worked for the Democrats both in 1992 and in 1996.

When it was Gore’s turn to choose a running mate in 2000, Gore too departed from tradition, turning to Connecticut’s junior senator, Joe Lieberman. True, Lieberman came from a northern state, Connecticut. But the Nutmeg State, then with eight electoral votes, was not a great electoral prize nor was it in serious doubt for the Democratic ticket. Gore turned to Lieberman because the ethically-challenged image of the Clinton Administration was a problem for Gore. Lieberman’s reputation for ethical probity provided useful ballast to the Democratic ticket.

But it was the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2000 which truly broke the geographic balancing mold. Bush did not pick Cheney for the vice presidency to secure Wyoming’s three electoral votes. Rather, the Texas Governor selected Cheney to bring to the ticket Cheney’s perceived gravitas including his experience as Wyoming’s congressman, Secretary of Defense, and White House Chief of Staff.

By 2008, it was no longer innovative when Barack Obama selected Joseph Biden of Delaware as his vice presidential running mate. Biden was not placed on the ticket to secure Delaware’s three electoral votes or otherwise secure geographic balance. Like Gore and Cheney, Biden was perceived as a Washington insider and policy expert. Biden’s experience augmented a ticked headed by a presidential candidate whose tenure in the nation’s capital consisted of a single, not-yet-completed term in the US Senate.

Ryan fits comfortably within the newer, policy-oriented vision of the vice presidency. It doesn’t hurt that Ryan comes from Wisconsin, a state the Republicans are eager to put into play. But unlike some of the other individuals Romney considered for the vice presidential nomination (such as Senator Portman of Ohio or Senator Rubio of Florida), Ryan doesn’t come from a major swing state. Indeed, Ryan himself has never run for statewide office in Wisconsin.

Ryan was picked because he is a young, articulate conservative policy wonk. Romney chose Ryan because of Ryan’s ideas, not Ryan’s home state.

What has caused this evolution of the vice presidency? A key factor is the nationalization of our culture and our politics. Kennedy and Johnson (as well as Dukakis and Bentsen) were individuals deeply rooted in their respective home states. We have become a more mobile nation. Barack Obama (born and raised in Hawaii, educated in California, New York, and Massachusetts) was a senator from Illinois. But his biography is itself a story of geographic balance.

The same is true of Mitt Romney, born and raised in Michigan, educated in California, Utah, and Massachusetts. Romney’s business career occurred in Massachusetts as did his one term as the Bay State’s governor. But no one even expects Romney to carry Massachusetts in November.

Just as the life stories of the presidential candidates are no longer centered in their “home” states, the electorate reflects America’s mobility as a nation. Consequently, geographic ties mean less today than they did in the past; roughly 40% of Americans today live in a different state than the state in which they were born.

Moreover, modern communications instantly nationalize our political figures. Paul Ryan will soon be as well-known in Texas as he is in Wisconsin. In this world of mobility and instant national communications, geographic ticket-balancing is less compelling than it was in the past.

A second factor buttressing the evolution of the vice presidency is the emergence of the vice presidential debates. When Kennedy and Nixon conducted the first presidential debates in 1960, there was no vice presidential debate between Johnson and the Republican nominee, Henry Cabot Lodge.

Today, the vice presidential debate is an important event on the campaign calendar. In picking a running mate, a presidential candidate must consider this event. My son Aaron and his colleagues at the Presidential Debate Blog correctly observe that Senator Bentsen uttered the most famous line in presidential debating: “Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.” However, debate skills don’t always correspond with geographic balance. Ryan was in large measure selected because of his ability to go toe-to-toe, rhetorically and intellectually, with Vice President Biden.

We will, no doubt, some day again see a presidential candidate select his or her vice presidential running mate from a large swing state in a section of the country far from the presidential candidate’s home state. But that geographic balancing mold is now longer dominant.

Edward A. Zelinsky is the Morris and Annie Trachman Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University. He is the author of The Origins of the Ownership Society: How The Defined Contribution Paradigm Changed America. His column ‘EZ Thoughts’ appears on the OUPblog monthly.

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Image credit: Seal of the Vice President of the United States. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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11. Poets Who Inspired Presidents

The Poetry Foundation has published “Poetic Presidents,” a study of 12 Presidents and “the poets that inspired them.”

Just in time for the election, the match-ups include George Washington and Phyllis Wheatley (the first African-American female to publish a book of poetry), John F. Kennedy and Robert Frost (the first poet to perform a reading at a presidential swearing in event) and Barack Obama and Elizabeth Alexander.

Here’s more from the article: “Politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose, former New York governor Mario Cuomo once said. While it’s debatable whether this epically long and tumultuous election cycle has inspired much verse, we at the Poetry Foundation would like to think that poetry has its place at the White House regardless of who emerges as the victor on November 6.”

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12. Clay Smith Joins Kirkus Media

Texas Book Festival literary director Clay Smith has been named the new features editor at Kirkus Media.

Smith will expand the features section at the literary outlet, adding “more reported articles about writers and reading trends.” He had worked at the Texas Book Festival since 2005, booking hundreds of writers, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Salman Rushdie, Sandra Cisneros and Amy Sedaris.

Here’s more from the release: “he wrote for Publishers Weekly, indiewire.com, and Newsday, among others. He has recently written for The Daily Beast, Elle Décor, and Newsday. While at the Texas Book Festival, Smith worked closely with small and large publishers to create a diverse program of national and Texas writers. With the participation of the Litquake Foundation and other partners, he added Lit Crawl Austin to the Festival’s program and grew sales of books during the two-day weekend.”

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13. Michelle Obama & Bill Clinton Get Grammy Nominations for Audiobooks

The Grammy Awards nominations have been revealed for 2013.

Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton lead the Best Spoken Word Album Category for the prestigious music awards.

Follow the links below to listen to free audiobook samples of all the nominated audiobooks below…

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14. Janis Ian Wins Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album

Musician Janis Ian beat out First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, political commentator Rachel Maddow and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres for the “Best Spoken Word Album” Grammy award.

Ian narrated her own book for the win.

Audible released the audiobook edition of her nonfiction book, Society’s Child: My Autobiography, in June 2012. The hardcover print version of this book actually came out back in July 2008.

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15. Why Obama Must Treat DOMA with Care

Elvin Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com. In the article below he reflects on Presidents Obama and Bush. See his previous OUPblogs here.

Presidents array themselves along a continuum with two extremes: either they are crusaders for their cause or merely defenders of the faith. Either they attempt to transform the landscape of America politics, or they attempt to modify it in incremental steps. To cite the titles of the autobiographies of the current and last presidents: either presidents declare the “audacity of hope” or they affirm a “charge to keep.” If President Obama is the liberal crusader, President George Bush was the conservative defender.

The strategies of presidential leadership differ for the crusader and the defender, but President Obama appears to be misreading the nature of his mandate. Conciliation works for the defender; it can be ruinous to the would-be crusader.

The crusader must have his base with him, all fired up and ready to go. For to go to places unseen, the crusader must have the visionaries, even the crazy ones, on his side. The defender, conversely, must pay homage to partisans on the other side of the aisle because incremental change requires assistance from people, including political rivals, invested in the status quo. Moderate politics require moderate friends.

The irony is that President George Bush, a self-proclaimed defender - spent too much time pandering to his right-wing base, and Barack Obama - a self-proclaimed crusader, is spending a lot of time appeasing his political rivals. Their political strategies were out of sync, and perhaps even inconsistent with their political goals.

Take the issue of gay rights for President Obama. The President is trying so hard to prove to his socially conservative political rivals that he is no liberal wacko that he has reversed his previous support for a full repeal of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). What he may not have realized is that it may be politically efficacious for a defender to ignore his base, but the costs to the crusader for alienating his base are far graver. Bipartisanship is not symmetrically rewarding in all leadership contexts.

Consider the example of President Bill Clinton, a “third-way” Democrat. He ended welfare as we knew it, and on affirmative action he said “mend it, don’t end it.” Much to Labor’s chagrin, he even passed NAFTA. Bill Clinton was no crusader. And if the Democratic base wanted a deal-making, favor-swapping politico, they would have nominated a second Clinton last year.
The crusader rides on a cloud of ideological purity. Without the zealotry and idolatry of the base, the crusader is nothing; his magic extinguished. And this is happening right now to Barack Obama.

The people who gave the man his luster are also uniquely enpowered to take it away. (It is a mistake to think that Sean Hannity or Michael Steele have this power.) Obama campaigned on changing the world, and his base can and will crush him for failing to deliver on his audacity. The Justice Department’s clumsy defense of DOMA via the case law recourse of incest and pedophilia may be a small matter in the administration’s scheme of things, but it is a big and repugnant deal to the base - the people who matter for a crusading president.

This is a pattern in the Obama administration: for the promise to pull troops out of Iraq there was the concomitant promise of more in Afghanistan, for the release of the OLC “torture memos,” operatives of harsh interrogation techniques were also offered immunity, in return for the administration’s defense of DOMA, Obama promised to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. This is incremental, transactional, and defensive leadership. Defenders balance; but crusaders are mandated to press on. Incremental leadership works for presidents mandated to keep a charge, but not for one who flaunted his audacity. There are distinct and higher expectations for a crusader-to-be; and if President Obama is to live up to his hype, then bear the crusader’s cross he must.

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16. The Perils Of Youth & Participatory Journalism

Like my former colleagues at Current TV, I was overjoyed at the news that Laura Ling and Euna Lee would be returning home yesterday. I loved watching everyone express their happiness in my Facebook newsfeed. My personal feelings about Laura (who I... Read the rest of this post

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17. What’s Bill Clinton Reading?

Note from Bill Clinton to Carolyn Kellogg

Note from Bill Clinton to Carolyn Kellogg

In case you ever wondered if Bill Clinton reads blogs…apparently he does! On July 4th, Carolyn Kellogg from The Los Angeles Times book blog, Jacket Copy, wrote about Bill Clinton’s reading habits. It seems that she made a mistake in her piece and was informed of her error by a personal, handwritten note from Bill Clinton. In the note, Clinton expanded on his current reading, providing her with a list of the titles he has recently read. Here they are:

1. Steven Johnson’s “The Invention of Air” and “The Ghost Map,” esp. #1
2. Tom Zoellner’s “Uranium”
3. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” his best book.
4. John Bogle’s “Enough”
5. Selden Edwards’ “The Little Book”
6. Richard North Patterson’s “Eclipse”
7. Andrew Greeley’s “The Cardinal Sins” (now almost 30 years old)

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18. A Monumental Achievement

Elvin Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com. In the article below he looks at the effects of health-care reform. See Lim’s previous OUPblogs here.

House Democrats have passed the health-care reform bill. Assuming Senate Democrats pass the accompanying reconciliation bill, this is a punctuating moment in the history of the American state, and a game changer for the politics of Elections 2010.

Since the New Deal, Democrats have embarked on a state-building enterprise. Democrats have expanded the functions of the state because they believe that individuals left by themselves and markets do not give us optimal levels of economic rights, civil rights, or health-care rights. Some Republicans were on board for a while, but today most see the accumulation of governmental responsibilities as the road to serfdom.

I am not sure that health-care reform takes us one step closer to socialism, but the Republicans are correct in their public statements that health-care reform will effect a major reconfiguration of citizens’ relationship with the state, and in their private sentiments that it is very difficult to roll back the state once it has been bloated. There was a time when bills calling for federal funding of roads between states were vetoed, when a federal income tax was unconstitutional, when investment banks were not regulated. None of these federal prerogatives are controversial today. Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama are correct that health-care reform is about the character of our country, though it might be fairer to say that it is about the evolving character of our country, because the developmental history of the expanding American state has paralleled America’s steady transition from pluribus to unum.

There are now 32 million new constituents of the (health-care) state, even if many will end up purchasing insurance from private exchanges. They are going to be committed to the state as wards are committed to their patron, and as seniors have come to love Medicare. Americans may not like the state, but our appetite for government tends to increase once we have been touched by its largess. Barring catastrophic implementation failure (because Medicare isn’t exactly a perfect program and it remains popular), the Democratic Party has just earned itself a sizable new constituency, not unlike what it did when FDR passed pro-labor legislation, or when the Republican Party handed out pensions to civil war veterans. At least some of these 32 million will go to the polls in November, and Republicans who have been fighting very hard to kill health-care reform know this. But because health-care reform has passed, Democrats have at least a fighting chance of keeping their congressional majorities when this seemed all but impossible a few weeks ago. For the first time since Scott Brown’s election to the Senate, the momentum is back in the Democrats’ court.

Barack Obama’s poll numbers are going to go up too. He lost many independents over the past year because he was seen to be too liberal, but he lost just as many  because he was seen to be incompetent in delivering change. When members of congress were chanting “Yes, We Can” on the floor of he House on Sunday night, we know that some of the old magic is back. He has done something that the last popular Democratic president, Bill

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19. Obama on “The View”

By Elvin Lim

President Barack Obama knew that he needed to help his party out as Washington gears up for the November elections. And so, he went on daytime television.

According to Nielsen ratings, Obama had 6.5 million people tuning in to The View last Thursday. In his last Oval Office address on the BP oil spill at primetime on June 16, he enticed only 5.3 million to listen in. As a pure matter of strategy, the decision to go on The View would have been a no-brainer. With a bigger audience in a relaxed atmosphere and soft-ball questions, Obama had little to lose and much to gain by going on daytime TV. In fact, because people are tired of speeches from behind a desk (which is why speeches from the Oval Office garner smaller and smaller audiences the further we are from Inauguration day), people rarely get to see a president taking questions on a couch  (which is why The View got .4 million more viewers on July 31, 2010 than on November 5, 2008, the day after Obama was elected).

People say the president’s appearance on The View, the first ever by a president on a daytime TV show, “demeaned” the office. (People said the same thing when Bill Clinton went on the Arsenio Hall Show.) Maybe this is true, and there is something undignified about taking questions while seated on a sofa. But one wonders if there might have been some sexism involved, that what was deemed “demeaning” was that Obama didn’t think it was below his station to be flagrantly courting a minority demographic.

Demeaning or not, like a flower turns towards the sun, Obama is returning to his base in the summer before the mid-term elections. He must, because a large proportion of his base are women. Although 56 percent of women voted for Obama in 2008 (and this was over four times the size of the gender gap between Kerry and Bush in 2004), about a third of these women have since  jilted him. Obama was being more than honest when he jested that “I wanted to pick a show that Michelle actually watches.”

Obama is rehabilitating his reputation because his party’s fortunes are inextricably linked to his this November. More than any single factor out there, Barack Obama can enhance the size of the Democratic turn-out in November. And it is worth repeating that almost everything he has done in the last year and a half has guaranteed a sizable Republican turn-out.  As Republican candidates have also been successful in nationalizing local races, these voters are disproportionately angry, charged-up, and ready to do some damage to Democratic one-party rule in Washington. Democrats have one piece of good news in this: according to Pew Research, only 52 percent of Republican voters are anticipating their vote as a vote against Obama, compared to 64 percent of Democrats who felt the same in 2006, which suggests that the electoral slap-in-the-face come November might not be as stinging as some pundits have been suggesting.

If there is one thing we know Obama can do, it is to campaign. While that does not make him a good president, he remains a force to reckon with because the road to Capitol Hill runs through the White House. So on The View and on the road the president shall be.

Elvin Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at 0 Comments on Obama on “The View” as of 1/1/1900

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20. Democrats Don’t Do Unity Well

By Elvin Lim


The generic Democratic ballot appeared to rebound a little last week, in part because of the Republican Pledge to America, the story of Christine O’Donnell of Delaware spreading in the liberal base, and in part because of anticipation of the One Nation march on the National Mall this weekend. Could it be that Democrats may actually be able to keep their majorities in Congress if this trend continues?A cold look at history tells us that the odds are still low. One of the iron laws of American politics is that the president’s party almost always loses seats in the House in off-year, mid-term elections. Since 1870, there have been 35 mid-term elections and on all but four occasions, the president’s party lost seats in the House (the average loss is 34 seats).

On these four occasions, the gains made by the president’s party were minor. Republicans and Democrats respectively picked up 9 seats in 1902 and 1934 (perhaps having the last name, Roosevelt, had something to do with it.) In 1998, the Democrats picked up 4 seats in part because of the public backlash against the Clinton impeachment proceedings. In 2002, the Republicans did not lose any seats (or gain any) and bucked the historical trend because the country was rallying behind the president after September 11. (Democrats searching for hope this year should observe that three of these exceptions occurred in year two of a new presidency; 1998 was the only exception to the famous “six-year itch.”)

On average, Democrats have proven to be more adept at losing seats than Republicans, consistent with the conventional wisdom that the Republican party is a more orderly party and better able to act in unison than Democrats can. Democrats have typically lost 39 seats in the house in mid-term elections (exactly the number the Republicans need to take over to gain majority control this year), while Republicans have lost an average of 32 seats in mid-terms.

The virtue of being a not-so-big-tent party is that there tends to be less internal disagreement within the Republican party than in the Democratic party. It took a Tea Party movement to create dissension within Republican ranks, and yet some would argue that the movement has only rallied and unified the base.

On the Democratic side however, value, demographic, and ideological pluralism has always been a double-edged sword. For here is the telling history of 2009-2011: whereas Republicans are united that Obama was a mistake, Democrats are far from united about what mistakes Obama has made. The liberal faction of the Democratic party, for example, began losing faith in Obama when he compromised on universal health-care, and conservative “blue-dog” Democrats parted ways with their brethren just when the president proposed a middle-way in the form of a government sponsored “public option.” This is the perverse outcome of the party boasting more registered members than the Republican party (or for that matter, any other organization in the world.)

If Democrats, unlike Republicans, don’t do unity well, then it may well be that they could be better off, or at least no worse off than they are today, should Republicans take one or both Houses of Congress this year. If divided party control of government shall come to pass, it would be because the Democrats were already splintered from the very moment they were blessed with united or single party control of government. Put another way, it may not really matter what happens come November, because Democrats were only united in name in 2009-2011 (and that was possibly what made the infighting more intense).

Indeed, D

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21. Maya Angelou Donates Personal Papers to the New York Public Library

Renowned poet Maya Angelou has donated 300 boxes filled with her personal papers to the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Angelou had this quote in the press release: “The Schomburg is a repository of the victories and the losses of the African American experience … I am grateful that it exists so that all the children, Black and White, Asian, Spanish-Speaking, Native American, and Aleutian can know there is a place where they can go and find the truth of the peoples’ history.”

The donation contains the notes for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and some of her most famous poems. One notable inclusion are the notes for the poem written at the request of former President Bill Clinton, On the Pulse of Morning. The video embedded above shows her reading it at Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. Several unpublished manuscripts and poems have also been included in the lot.

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22. Beware the Claims of a “Mandate”

By Elvin Lim


Mandate claims in American politics are hogwash, and they are especially dubious in mid-term elections where an entire branch was not evaluated for re-election. Mandates imply that there is a clear date on which majorities are counted. There isn’t, because ours is a republic in which the staggered electoral calendar introduced the principle that republican “truth” would emerge from a conversation between different majorities at different cross sections in time. The president elected in 2008 is still around – so as far as the Constitution is concerned, the Democratic mandate from 2008 is no less relevant and carries over into 2011 as much as the Republican mandate from 2010.

The Constitution understands that what you and I believed in 2008 and what we believe in 2010 could be the same or it could be different – but what matters is that the Constitution predicted our fickleness and finds its average between the two. The change that Obama promised in 2008 was as much mandated as the change that the Republicans and the Tea Partiers resisted in 2010. This is an important lesson for both Republicans in Congress and the President. If mandates are fragile, even meaningless things, then at the very least, neither should make too much of their own.

But still, since we are committed to majoritarian rule, it would be worthwhile to try to divine exactly what the American people are looking for in the next two years. Just where is the median position between the electoral mandate of 2008 and 2010? Should Barack Obama try to do what Bill Clinton did, and find a “third way” compromise with Republicans, and John Boehner should try to, like Newt Gingerich, push a purist Republican agenda? On balance, I think Obama should resist the urge to over-react, and Boehner should resist the urge to over-reach.

Bill Clinton’s mandate from 1992 was not only much smaller (with 45 million Americans voting for him, he received a plurality but not a majority of the popular vote), it was also a mandate (“Putting People First”) that wasn’t based on a campaign that was categorically and emphatically about change. When his party lost 54 seats in the House in 1994, it was certainly humbling compared to the relatively paltry size of his own mandate.

Less so for Barack Obama. About 90 million voters turned out last week. Assuming that a vote for a Republican candidate for the House and the Senate and in any state can be meaningfully clumped together to articulate a generic Republican mandate for 2010, then about 47 million voters (52 percent of 90 million) signed on to the Republican Pledge for America in 2010.

That leaves an undiluted and quite unambiguous vote for one man, Barack Obama, in 2008 that was one and a half times the number of votes cast for 286 Republican women and men (239 in the House plus 47 in the Senate) in 2010, since 132 million Americans turned out in the 2008 elections, and about 70 million chose Barack Obama and his version of change. That’s a pretty hefty differential, and if so 2011 should not be replayed as if it were 1995.

If Obama should not over-react, neither should Republicans over-reach. Republicans should not be blamed for playing the hype game today. It sets the bargaining position in their favor when they take control of Congress in January. But, Republicans should be careful with too much of a good thing. The higher the expectations they set, the harder they can fall. (Obama found that out.)

Obama and the new Congress should understand that the system under which they operate was designed to facilitate a conversation between voting generations. And since the system, in effect, anticipated the fickleness of voters, it is incumbent on those we have selected to represent us in government to enact a careful titration of two mandates loudly articulated against

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23. Bill Clinton Praises George W. Bush’s Memoir

bushbook.jpgGeorge W. Bush‘s Decision Points has received a positive endorsement by former president Bill Clinton.

According to the Associated Press, Clinton had this book review: “Decision Points is well-written, and interesting from start to finish. I think people of all political stripes should read it. George W. Bush also gives readers a good sense of what it’s like to be president, to take the responsibilities of the office seriously, do what you think is right, and let history be the judge.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Bush’s memoir generated the largest first-day sales for a nonfiction book Random House had seen in 6 years. On opening day, Bush sold an estimated 220,000 copies (counting hardcover and eBook sales). Random House published Clinton’s memoir in 2004, counting 400,000 copies sold on the first day.

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24. Barack Obama Publishes Picture Book

obamakids.jpgPresident Barack Obama‘s picture book, Of Thee I Sing, arrived in bookstores and eBook format today. Random House has also released a promotional video about the book.

Here’s more about the book, from the release: “Obama’s poignant words and Loren Long’s stunning images together capture the promise of childhood and the personalities and achievements of the following Americans: Georgia O’Keeffe, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Sitting Bull, Billie Holiday, Helen Keller, Maya Lin, Jane Addams, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Neil Armstrong, Cesar Chavez, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.”

President Obama’s attorney, Robert B. Barnett, handled the negotiations for the manuscript back in 2009. Knopf executive editor Michelle Frey edited the book. Children’s book artist Loren Long provided the illustrations.

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