TIME

How It Feels to Be on President Obama’s Summer Playlist

Getty Images (2) Aoife O'Donovan and Lianne La Havas

Mixed in with Al Green and Bob Dylan are artists, like Aoife O'Donovan and Lianne La Havas, for whom the playlists bring welcome exposure

On Friday morning, the White House released President Obama’s handpicked summer playlists on Spotify—one for daytime chilling, one for nighttime hangs. The 40 songs will presumably comprise the soundtrack to the president’s 16-day vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, assuming Malia doesn’t tell him to turn off the Stones and have a go at what the young people are listening to these days.

Both playlists swing toward the old-school: At lunchtime, he’s listening to The Temptations, Howlin’ Wolf and Sly & The Family Stone while saving John Coltrane, Van Morrison and Al Green for dessert. But the Commander in Chief is also getting down to a crop of relative newcomers, who are delighting in both the exposure and the esteemed company he’s placed them in.

British singer-songwriter and guitarist Lianne La Havas was in her dressing room at the Flow Festival in Helsinki, Finland, when the news came. “I screamed,” she told TIME after coming offstage. “It was hard not to.” For his playlist, Obama selected the title track from La Havas’ 2012 debut album Is Your Love Big Enough. It’s a song she wrote about finding yourself, “kind a celebration of having a newfound love for yourself—in a non-conceited way,” she explains.

Now promoting her new album Blood, which dropped in late July, La Havas took a moment to praise Obama’s taste in music, as well as his decision to include her among many of the greats of the 20th century. “I think he’s a wonderful man and a great inspiration to people, not only musicians, so I’m very, very honored.” He’s at the top of a list of people she’d like to meet, and knowing that he’s a fan, she says, “feels like maybe not quite there, but a step closer.”

Aoife O’Donovan was also overseas, in Kilkenny, Ireland, when her phone began buzzing with text messages exclaiming, “Obama!” The half-Irish, Massachusetts-born folk singer is not quite a newcomer to the music scene—she has played professionally since her days as a student at the New England Conservatory of Music in the early 2000s, and performed in groups with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer. Still, the notifications lighting up her phone were wholly unexpected.

“It just seemed so strange and far-fetched,” says O’Donovan, who took a break from her beer at an Irish pub to talk to TIME. She thought it was a joke until opening up the playlist and seeing her song, “Red & White & Blue & Gold,” sandwiched between Al Green and Lauryn Hill. The experience was made even more surreal by the fact that she and her aunt had just stopped at the Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall, a rest stop named in the president’s honor after his 2011 visit to the village.

O’Donovan met Obama briefly, back in 2011, when The Goat Rodeo Sessions, her group with Ma, Meyers, Stuart Duncan and Chris Thile, was performing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on the same night the president was a guest. Her only hunch as to why Obama might have stumbled across her song—save for remembering her from that appearance—is its setting on the 4th of July. Though it’s more of a love song, she says, “There’s a patriotic element, so maybe that’s why he clicked play.”

More than relishing exposure for her own music, O’Donovan is impressed by Obama’s wide-ranging selection, from jazz to soul to folk. “It’s so cool that he has such eclectic taste,” she says. “I just love thinking about him in Martha’s Vineyard eating some grilled corn and having such a varied summer playlist.” She hopes the president’s decision to share his favorite music will inspire more people to become music-lovers, adding that “it’s great to have a president who’s such a music lover and really been such a supporter of artists throughout his presidency.”

As for the musical selections of the current slew of presidential candidates, O’Donovan notes that Hillary Clinton’s campaign may be printing up some new stickers that say “I’m With Her,” which happens to be the name of O’Donovan’s band with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz. She hopes the coincidence might pay off: “We’re hoping maybe we’ll get to write her campaign song.”

TIME Foreign Policy

29 Leading Scientists Back Obama on Iran Nuclear Deal

Obama Speaks Iran Nuclear Deal
Pete Marovich—AP United States President Barack Obama addresses American University's School of International Service in Washington on Aug. 5, 2015.

"This is an innovative agreement"

Twenty-nine of America’s leading scientists—from Nobel Prize winners to nuclear experts—co-signed a letter supporting President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal on Saturday.

“We consider that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) the United States and its partners negotiated with Iran will advance the cause of peace and security in the Middle East and can serve as a guidepost for future non-proliferation agreements,” the letter said. It went on: “This is an innovative agreement, with much more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated non-proliferation framework.”

The support from the scientific community comes at a critical juncture for Obama, who is facing criticism not only from the Republican party, but from also from fellow Democrats. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.—N.Y.), a leading Democrat in Congress published a piece on Medium Thursday night explaining why he was against the Iran nuclear deal.

The scientists’ letter addressed fears that the deal was weak and gave in to much to Iranian demands. “Concerns about clandestine activities in Iran are greatly mitigated by the dispute resolution mechanism built into the agreement,” the letter said. “The 24-day cap on any delay to access is unprecedented, and it will allow effective challenge inspection for the suspected activities of greatest concern.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Chuck Schumer Plans on Rejecting Obama’s Iran Deal

The move is a blow to the Obama administration

(WASHINGTON) — New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat and next-in-line party leader, said late Thursday that he is breaking with President Barack Obama and will oppose the Iran nuclear deal.

“After deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval,” Schumer said in a statement weeks before he will cast a vote.

Schumer is the first Senate Democrat to step forward to oppose the deal. His announcement came just hours after two other Senate Democrats — New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen — announced their support for the international accord.

The deal, struck last month with Tehran and Western powers, would curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from crippling sanctions.

Schumer’s decision is a blow to the administration, though it remains to be seen whether other Democratic lawmakers will follow the New York senator. His split with Obama is remarkable for a senior leader in line to replace Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., after he retires at the end of next year.

Schumer’s decision also puts him at odds with the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has cautiously embraced the deal.

The administration, which has lobbied intensely for the pact, had secured the backing of more than a dozen Senate Democrats and more than two dozen House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Republicans, who control the House and Senate, are uniformly opposed to the deal.

Schumer signaled that he wouldn’t lobby hard against the accord. The House and Senate will begin debate on a resolution of disapproval when lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 8 after their August recess. The administration needs Democratic support to sustain a widely expected veto by Obama of any resolution of disapproval.

“There are some who believe that I can force my colleagues to vote my way,” he said. “While I will certainly share my view and try to persuade them that the vote to disapprove is the right one, in my experience with matters of conscience and great consequence like this, each member ultimately comes to their own conclusion.”

Schumer has been under pressure as a congressional ally of Israel, leading fundraiser and strategist for his party, and lawmaker from a state that is home to more than a million-and-a-half Jews.

“The very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great,” he said in opposing the pact.

Schumer said he based his decision on the nuclear and non-nuclear elements of the accord and on the question of “Are we better off with the agreement or without it?”

He complained that the pact does not allow inspections “anywhere, anytime” and that the United States cannot demand inspections unilaterally.

Schumer joins a handful of Jewish Democrats who have announced their opposition — Reps. Steve Israel and Nita Lowey of New York and Ted Deutch of Florida. Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, however, has endorsed the deal.

The powerful pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee is vehemently opposed to the deal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced as undermining the security of Israel and the region. Opponents of the pact have targeted Schumer in campaign-style ads.

The media-friendly Schumer made the announcement through the blog Medium, not in a high-profile speech on the Senate floor like several of his colleagues. His statement also was posted as much of the political world was focused on the first Republican presidential candidate debate.

The announcement came hours after the Senate left Washington for its recess. The move spares Schumer weeks of intense lobbying from proponents and foes of the deal.

TIME justice

Former Prisoners Applaud Program to Help Inmates Go to College

Alphonso Coates college prison education partnership
Patrick Semansky—AP Inmate Alphonso Coats, a participant in the Goucher College Prison Education Partnership, sits in a discussion with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other officials inside the Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup on July 31, 2015, in Jessup, Md.

Glenn Martin knows exactly the kind of difference getting an education can make for a person behind bars. When Martin was 23, he was sentenced to six years in prison for robbery. That time, he told TIME on Friday, was arguably the lowest point in his life.

But a meeting he had with a correction’s officer during his early days behind bars in state prison in New York changed his life. After reviewing his file, the officer suggested that he consider advancing his education and enrolling in college courses.

“That was the first time anyone had ever said to me ‘you should go to college,’” Martin says. “I grew up in [the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn]. I distinctly remember people saying the opposite to me.”

While in prison, Martin was able to earn his associate’s degree through a prison education program called the Consortium of the Niagara Frontier, one of New York’s oldest post-secondary correctional education programs. It was in that program that Martin says he was able to consider all of the possibilities that lie ahead of him in life.

“I started to think of myself differently,” Martin says. “I saw hope beyond being in that prison for six years.”

Now, at 43, Martin serves as the president of Just Leadership USA, an organization aimed at significantly reducing the incarceration rate nationwide by 2030. And it was in that role that Martin was invited to attend an event at a prison in Maryland on Friday, where he participated in a roundtable discussion with the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of Education.

As TIME reported earlier this week, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan traveled to the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup to announce that the administration would temporarily grant incarcerated individuals access to federal aid that can help them pay for college. The experimental initiative reverses a 1994 law that blocked state and federal prisoners’ access to Pell Grants which critics say hurt their chances to start over.

The research on the topic of institutional education is clear: according to a 2013 study by the RAND Corporation funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, prisoners who took educational courses behind bars were 43% less likely to return to prison in three years than those who did not. With about 1.5 million Americans behind bars, changing the Pell Grant system could have a major effect.

“America is a nation of second chances. Giving people who have made mistakes in their lives a chance to get back on track and become contributing members of society is fundamental to who we are,” Duncan said in a statement.

Through the pilot program, prisoners who are eligible for release within the next five years and otherwise meet the requirements for federal aid could have access to grants to pay for tuition, fees, books, and supplies. Though the program is limited to Pell Grants and does not apply to any other type of aid, those who work in education are hopeful.

Vivian Nixon, the executive director of the College and Community Fellowship an organization that helps formerly incarcerated women get an education, didn’t have a chance to get an education while she was behind bars. When she was in her mid-thirties, Nixon was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for a series of white-collar crimes.

The possibility of being able to further her education while incarcerated gave Nixon hope, but those dreams were dashed when she was transferred to a prison that didn’t offer any post-secondary education courses. After suffering bouts of hopelessness and depression, Nixon started tutoring other women working toward their GED behind bars. Over the past decade and a half, she’s made it her mission to get the federal government to make it easier for prisoners to get an education.

“Education is transformative,” Nixon says. “When people are educated it opens up a whole set of different choices and without the kind of knowledge or confidence that education brings you can easily slip back into the old habits that landed you in prison.”

For Nixon and Martin, who collaborated to form the Education from the Inside Out Coaltion, an organization that aims to increase educational opportunities for prisoners, Friday was a special day. Both of them saw their handwork come to fruition firsthand.

“For [decades] we’ve dealt with this issue in ways that make for good politics, but bad policy,” Martin said. “This is an opportunity to undo some of that.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Rallies Grassroots to Get ‘Active’ in Iran Deal Organizing

Obama told participants in a conference call to get more active in their efforts to garner support for the Iran deal

President Obama told grassroots organizers on a conference call Thursday to “get moving” on efforts to make their support for the Iran deal known to members of Congress.

“You guys have to get more active and loud and involved and informed,” Obama said on conference call Thursday.

Obama challenged the organizers to take an approach opposite what organizers took when Congress was mulling whether or not to authorize the Iraq War. His frustration with that effort, he said, was in the fact that everyone got “loud and active when it was too late.”

As Congress leaves for its summer recess, the Iran Deal will likely be a major topic of discussion at town halls and meetings in their districts

Obama’s strategy hit home with at least one organizer on the call, who spoke to TIME shortly after it ended.

“The still-raw memories of the Iraq war are the single motivating factor for those of us who are pushing for the deal,” says Ben Wikler, the Washington Director for MoveOn.org, who joined the call Thursday. MoveOn.org was one of the most active groups calling for diplomacy, not war in Iraq following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

According to the White House a wide-cross section of progressive groups were invited to join the call. At the outset, Obama thanked groups including MoveOn.org, the Truman National Security Project, and Organizing for Action for their support thus far on the nuclear deal with Iran. Wikler said it was “heartening” to hear directly from the President and to know that the White House is “pulling out all the stops” to ensure that the diplomatic agreement over Iran’s nuclear program comes into fruition.

“It makes all the difference in the world if you’re calling Congress, and attending town halls to know that there are people on your side,” Wikler says.

Wikler compared the tone of the call to one that could be experienced during an election season—Obama was forceful, direct, and adamant that the his bully pulpit alone won’t see the deal through a skeptical Congress. Wikler says his organization has a similar sense of urgency around the deal, which he says is their “overriding priority” leading up to the vote.

Thursday’s call made clear that the White House is leaving nothing on the table in its effort to garner support for the historic deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Members of the Obama administration have been actively lobbying Congress over the pending deal since it was announced on July 14. Cabinet members are making regular appearances on Capitol Hill and just Wednesday a group of House Democrats attended a working reception at the White House where the Iran deal was discussed.

Despite the White House efforts, opponents of the deal remain relentless in their efforts to block it and a hefty coalition of Congressional leaders are insistent upon keeping it from passing. Congress was given 60 days to either approve or reject the deal, though Obama has said he would veto any attempt to block it.

TIME White House

Obama: If I Ran for a Third Term, I Could Win

"But I can't"

President Obama said that if he could run for a third term he thinks he would win, while calling for African leaders to adhere to term limits during a historic speech before the African Union.

“I actually think I’m a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win. But I can’t,” Obama said in Ethiopia on Tuesday. ” There’s a lot that I’d like to do to keep America moving, but the law’s the law.”

President Obama addressed his third term viability while calling on African leaders to step aside when their terms end on Tuesday. During his speech, the first by an American president before the African Union, Obama said when a leader “tries to change the rules in the middle of the game” in order to stay in office it puts a nation’s stability and the future of Democratic progress across the continent at risk. Obama specifically noted recent elections in Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza won a third term. The United Nations has said those elections occurred in an environment that was not “not conducive for an inclusive, free and credible electoral process,” according to the Associated Press.

” The point is, I don’t understand why people want to stay so long. Especially, when they’ve got a lot of money,” Obama said Tuesday, during the final stretch of his historic trip to two African countries. “And sometimes you’ll hear a leader say ‘I’m the only person who can hold this nation together.’ If that’s true, then that leader has failed to truly build their nation.”

Though Obama admitted he thinks he’s done a good job at the helm — something about 49% of Americans agree with, according his most recent CNN approval ratings — he didn’t hesitate to list off the freedoms he’ll gain back when he leaves office.

“I’m looking forward to life after being president,” Obama said. “I won’t have such a big security detail all the time. It means I can go take a walk, I can spend time with my family, I can find other ways to serve. I can visit Africa more often.”

TIME viral

Watch Obama Steal the Show by Dancing the Lipala During His Visit to Kenya

It seems the commander-in-chief can cut a rug like the best of them

We knew he could bring down the house singing Al Green and “Amazing Grace,” but we’d rarely seen Barack Obama put on his dancing shoes — until now.

Between stops in the busy itinerary of his visit to Kenya this weekend, which included visiting his father’s family and giving a ringing speech on Africa’s potential for innovation, Obama found time to dine at Nairobi’s State House. There, he joined Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, first lady Margaret Kenyatta, and U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice in doing the Lipala. A traditional dance common at rural celebrations, the Lipala has returned to mainstream popularity recently after Kenyan afro-pop stars Sauti Sol chose its moves to accompany the video of their hit song “Sura Yako (Your Face).”

The band, which performed at the dinner, posted a video on Instagram showing Obama getting down with fellow dignitaries, ably keeping up with the steps and clearly enjoying himself.

TIME White House

President Obama Dines With Relatives in Kenya

KENYA-US-OBAMA
Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama sits alongside his step-grandmother, Mama Sarah, left, and half-sister Auma Obama, right, during a gathering of family at his hotel in Nairobi on July 24, 2015.

Obama is in Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, but made time for family on Friday

President Obama made time to meet with family on the first night of his four-day trip to Kenya and Ethiopia. About three dozen of the President’s relatives joined him for dinner on Friday, including his half sister Auma and his step-grandmother Mama Sarah.

Obama is in Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, of which he is co-chair. His trip marks the first time a sitting U.S. president has traveled to both Kenya and Ethiopia, but the trip also has historical significance given Obama’s personal connection to the East African nation. Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr., was born in Kenya and later died there. Obama was born in Hawaii.

Per the White House pool report on Friday’s dinner:

Potus, still in suit and tie, was seated in the middle of two long tables filled with relatives, about three dozen in all. Seated to his right was his step-grandmother, Mama Sarah, whom he calls Granny, wearing a [gold]-colored head scarf. To his left was his half-sister, Auma Obama, wearing a white jacket and black blouse. The other relatives were all wearing suits or other appropriately dress clothes. There were a lot of smiles all around.

 

TIME Race

Majority of Americans Now Say Race Relations Are Bad

Confederate Flag Columbia South Carolina
John Moore—Getty Images A man holds a Confederate flag on the state house grounds in Columbia, S.C. on July 18, 2015.

A significant reversal since President Obama's election

When Americans elected the first black president in 2008, two-thirds thought race relations were generally good. But that’s not the case anymore.

According to a new New York Times/CBS poll, six in 10 Americans now think race relations are poor, and four in 10 think they are getting worse. The reversal comes in the wake of the June killing of nine black people in a historically black church in South Carolina and amidst ongoing, racially charged protests concerning police killings of black people around the country.

Blacks in particular have had a dramatic shift in their view of race relations during the Obama era. Six in 10 said race relations were bad in 2008, but that figure dropped to around 30% just after President Obama was elected. Today more than two-thirds of blacks say race relations are poor, which is close to the figures seen in the aftermath of Rodney King’s beating by police officers in the early 1990s.

A majority of white respondents also said race relations were poor, but for them it was the first acknowledgement of that fact in a long time. In 2008, before Obama’s election, nearly 60% of whites said race relations were good in the U.S.

[NYT]

TIME White House

The Lack of Change in Gun Laws During His Presidency Has Been ‘Distressing,’ Obama Says

Michelle Obama Hosts 2015 Beating The Odds Summit At White House
Mark Wilson—Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama greets guests during a surprise visit to First Lady Michelle Obama's event on higher education in the East Room of the White House July 23, 2015

The President spoke of feeling "most frustrated and most stymied" over the issue

Failure to pass what he called “common-sense gun-safety laws” during his tenure in the White House has ranked among his greatest frustrations, Barack Obama has told the BBC, in a wide-ranging interview covering much of the last years of his presidency.

Obama said he felt he had made strides in many political arenas but that it was “distressing” not to have affected significant change in gun laws “even in the face of repeated mass killings.”

With less than two years left in power, Obama said guns were the policy area that made him feel “most frustrated and most stymied. “If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100,” he said. “If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands.”

During a turbulent summer that saw nine African Americans killed at a South Carolina prayer meeting in June, Obama told reporters that “politics in [Washington]” precluded most options for change in gun control policy.

The BBC interview was conducted previous to the July 23 shooting at a movie theater in Louisiana and did not touch on that event.

[BBC]

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