Obama After Dark: The Precious Hours Alone

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
JULY 2, 2016
WASHINGTON — “Are you up?”
The emails arrive late, often after 1 a.m., tapped out on a secure BlackBerry from an email address known only to a few. The weary recipients know that once again, the boss has not yet gone to bed.
The late-night interruptions from
President Obama might be sharply worded questions about memos he has read. Sometimes they are taunts because the recipient’s sports team just lost.
Last month it was a 12:30 a.m. email to Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, and Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, telling them he had finished reworking a speechwriter’s draft of presidential remarks for later that morning. Mr. Obama had spent three hours scrawling in longhand on a yellow legal pad an angry condemnation of Donald J. Trump’s response to the attack in Orlando, Fla., and told his aides they could pick up his rewrite at the White House usher’s office when they came in for work.
Mr. Obama calls himself a “night guy,” and as president, he has come to consider the long, solitary hours after dark as essential as his time in the Oval Office. Almost every night that he is in the White House, Mr. Obama has dinner at 6:30 with his wife and daughters and then withdraws to the Treaty Room, his private office down the hall from his bedroom on the second floor of the White House residence.
There, his closest aides say, he spends four or five hours largely by himself.
He works on speeches. He reads the stack of briefing papers delivered at 8 p.m. by the staff secretary. He reads 10 letters from Americans chosen each day by his staff. “How can we allow private citizens to buy automatic weapons? They are weapons of war,” Liz O’Connor, a Connecticut middle school teacher,
wrote in a letter Mr. Obama read on the night of June 13.
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The president also watches ESPN, reads novels or plays Words With Friends on his iPad.
Michelle Obama occasionally pops in, but she goes to bed before the president, who is up so late he barely gets five hours of sleep a night. For Mr. Obama, the time alone has become more important.
“Everybody carves out their time to get their thoughts together. There is no doubt that window is his window,” said Rahm Emanuel , Mr. Obama’s first chief of staff. “You can’t block out a half-hour and try to do it during the day. It’s too much incoming. That’s the place where it can all be put aside and you can focus.”
President George W. Bush, an early riser, was in bed by 10. President Bill Clinton was up late like Mr. Obama, but he spent the time in lengthy, freewheeling phone conversations with friends and political allies, forcing aides to scan the White House phone logs in the mornings to keep track of whom the president might have called the night before.
“A lot of times, for some of our presidential leaders, the energy they need comes from contact with other people,” said the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who has had dinner with Mr. Obama several times in the past seven and a half years. “He seems to be somebody who is at home with himself.”
‘Insane Amount of Paper’
When Mr. Obama first arrived at the White House, his after-dinner routine started around 7:15 p.m. in the game room, on the third floor of the residence. There, on an old Brunswick pool table, Mr. Obama and Sam Kass, then the Obama family’s personal chef, would spend 45 minutes playing eight-ball.
Mr. Kass saw pool as a chance for Mr. Obama to decompress after intense days in the Oval Office, and the two kept a running score. “He’s a bit ahead,” said Mr. Kass, who left the White House at the end of 2014.
In those days, the president followed the billiards game with bedtime routines with his daughters. These days, now that both are teenagers, Mr. Obama heads directly to the Treaty Room, named for the many historical documents that have been signed in it, including the peace protocol that ended the Spanish-American War in 1898.
“The sports channel is on,” Mr. Emanuel said, recalling the ubiquitous images on the room’s large flat-screen television. “Sports in the background, with the volume down.”
By 8 p.m., the usher’s office delivers the president’s leather-bound daily briefing book — a large binder accompanied by a tall stack of folders with memos and documents from across the government, all demanding the president’s attention. “An insane amount of paper,” Mr. Kass said.
Mr. Obama often reads through it in a leather swivel chair at his tablelike desk, under a portrait of President Ulysses S. Grant. Windows on each side of Grant look out on the brightly lit Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial.
Other nights, the president settles in on the sofa under the 1976 “Butterfly” by Susan Rothenberg, a 6-foot-by-7-foot canvas of burnt sienna and black slashes that evokes a galloping horse.
“He is thoroughly predictable in having gone through every piece of paper that he gets,” said Tom Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser from 2010 to 2013. “You’ll come in in the morning, it will be there: questions, notes, decisions.”
Seven Almonds
To stay awake, the president does not turn to caffeine. He rarely drinks coffee or tea, and more often has a bottle of water next to him than a soda. His friends say his only snack at night is seven lightly salted almonds.
“Michelle and I would always joke: Not six. Not eight,” Mr. Kass said. “Always seven almonds.”
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The demands of the president’s day job sometimes intrude. A photo taken in 2011 shows Mr. Obama in the Treaty Room with Mr. McDonough, at that time the deputy national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, then Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism chief and now the director of the C.I.A., after placing a call to Prime Minister Naoto Kan of Japan shortly after Japan was hit by a devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake. “The call was made near midnight,” the photo caption says.
But most often, Mr. Obama’s time in the Treaty Room is his own.
“I’ll probably read briefing papers or do paperwork or write stuff until about 11:30 p.m., and then I usually have about a half-hour to read before I go to bed, about midnight, 12:30 a.m., sometimes a little later,” Mr. Obama told Jon Meacham, the editor in chief of Newsweek, in 2009.
In 2014, Mr. Obama told Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan of ABC’s “Live With Kelly and Michael” that he stayed up even later — “until like 2 o’clock at night, reading briefings and doing work” — and added that he woke up “at a pretty reasonable hour, usually around 7.”
‘Can You Come Back?’
Mr. Obama’s longest nights — the ones that stretch well into the early morning — usually involve speeches.
One night last June, Cody Keenan, the president’s chief speechwriter, had just returned home from work at 9 p.m. and ordered pizza when he heard from the president: “Can you come back tonight?”
Mr. Keenan met the president in the usher’s office on the first floor of the residence, where the two worked until nearly 11 p.m. on the president’s eulogy for nine African-Americans fatally shot during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
Three months earlier, Mr. Keenan had had to return to the White House when the president summoned him — at midnight — to go over changes to a speech Mr. Obama was to deliver in Selma, Ala., on the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when protesters were brutally beaten by the police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
“There’s something about the night,” Mr. Keenan said, reflecting on his boss’s use of the time. “It’s smaller. It lets you think.”
In 2009, Jon Favreau, Mr. Keenan’s predecessor, gave the president a draft of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech the night before they were scheduled to leave for the ceremony in Oslo. Mr. Obama stayed up until 4 a.m. revising the speech, and handed Mr. Favreau 11 handwritten pages later that morning.
On the plane to Norway, Mr. Obama, Mr. Favreau and two other aides pulled another near-all-nighter as they continued to work on the speech. Once Mr. Obama had delivered it, he called the exhausted Mr. Favreau at his hotel.
“He said, ‘Hey, I think that turned out O.K.,’” Mr. Favreau recalled. “I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Let’s never do that again.’”
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Some Time for Play
Not everything that goes on in the Treaty Room is work.
In addition to playing Words With Friends, a Scrabble-like online game, on his iPad, Mr. Obama turns up the sound on the television for big sports games.
“If he’s watching a game, he will send a message. ‘Duke should have won that game,’ or whatever,” said Reggie Love, a former Duke basketball player who was Mr. Obama’s personal aide for the first three years of his presidency.
The president also uses the time to catch up on the news, skimming The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal on his iPad or watching cable. Mr. Love recalls getting an email after 1 a.m. after Mr. Obama saw a television report about students whose “bucket list” included meeting the president. Why had he not met them, the president asked Mr. Love.
“‘Someone decided it wasn’t a good idea,’ I said,” Mr. Love recalled. “He said, ‘Well, I’m the president and I think it’s a good idea.’”
Mr. Obama and his wife are also fans of cable dramas like “Boardwalk Empire,” “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad.” On Friday nights — movie night at the White House — Mr. Obama and his family are often in the Family Theater, a 40-seat screening room on the first floor of the East Wing, watching first-run films they have chosen and had delivered from the Motion Picture Association of America.
There is time, too, for fantasy about what life would be like outside the White House. Mr. Emanuel, who is now the mayor of Chicago but remains close to the president, said he and Mr. Obama once imagined moving to Hawaii to open a T-shirt shack that sold only one size (medium) and one color (white). Their dream was that they would no longer have to make decisions.
During difficult White House meetings when no good decision seemed possible, Mr. Emanuel would sometimes turn to Mr. Obama and say, “White.” Mr. Obama would in turn say, “Medium.”
Now Mr. Obama, who has six months left of solitary late nights in the Treaty Room, seems to be looking toward the end. Once he is out of the White House, he said in March at an Easter prayer breakfast in the State Dining Room, “I am going to take three, four months where I just sleep.”

Night and Day: A Verse/Dada Olaoluwa

  
Night and day are brothers,both are gifts from the father. But my bond is with the night,even in the day.
     The night is for us, though not as prowlers. The day is for all, all of us as users.
     They toil in the night,many users of the day.They conquer all day,few who use the night. The night is a weapon, with which men of valour conquer their war and world.          
     Hence, my covenant with it.

About the author –
                                  – The editor
Many at times writers engenders an emblem of many lives- and only through their works is such know. This poem is immediately concerned with the complex duality of nature, their overreaching imposition and disposition to human beings. But there’s a strong tone of brevity by the poet, outlining human dangerous ‘romance ‘ with both darkness and light.
   This poem is different from “A Song Of Atonement .” Dada Olaoluwa has been engaged by different things. He received his formal education at Adekunle Ajasin University. He’s a critic, and he loves the theatre.

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Song of Atonement / A Poem/ Dada Olaoluwa

Onward like soldier,                       Courage carries me,                       gazing the future                             though faintly.                             “The future” said they                     “comes always late when.                coming big”.                                This has solaced me.                       Why thy cruelty earth?                    Answer me, oh earth!                       You house many thorns,                    to obstruct my speed.                       Yet I solace in order                          ‘gainst the creed of other.                                    Cos vital is it compared to                 Speed.                                                I shall see the other side                  of you, oh earth!

BANDELE AND HIS GHOST TOWN / A SHORT FACTION/ BY EHINDOLA ODUNAYO

Bamidele spoke to me with fear that the last of something working that is cassava mill brought here by his father would soon stop working and be gone too. “There is nothing about this place that reminds me of its prime time” bamidele said, has he inspects his mill.

Idera was always too small to be recognized as an actual town. It only appeared so in some time back and every four years. This was when it became home to district voters. The town is also noted for its cassava cultivation and processing.”Home of garri” he mumbled. But when the government owned Mills closed sometimes ago, it took the village with it. There are no more jobs and now, other than old men and there women with few young ones the village is nearly a shadow of itself.

Bamidele lives beside a old cassava mill beside the road in a town that doesn’t literally exist.

He doesn’t miss the buzz of pre and post election periods, his wives are company enough.

He does, however, miss the visits of white farmers who for thirty years, they came. They left the big cities, drove the winding local path three hours farther from the metropolis into the wooded savannas, past un weeded cashew plantations through rough separates to arrive here. “They use to come by all the time in their big wheeled SUVs but those are gone too”.

It is difficult to live in this far North central Nigeria sub-region where the post office doesn’t even deliver mails and where there’s hardly cell phone service-its hard to be heard.

This part had flourished on the first instance of settlement. But like every village around, it had everything taken away from it, except for a blunt undocumented history. Idera will most likely remain like this. That the town has vanished is enough evidence that being central to neighboring towns, it rather shrinks at the expense of unprecedented enlargement of these neighboring towns.

Things won’t be the same for this town said Bamidele a member of the old defunct Idera Progressive Union. Noting that the new school being built in Alabe could further increase the influx of people to the village and enough to negatively affect the prospect of attracting more people to Idera “could be devastating” he said sighing.

The question is who will get the proposed telecommunication mast. Can idera beat Alabe, Ikosin, Budo Are, Afin to it?

Back in his old house,big but almost as empty as the village, all Bamidele can do is watch as five fake villages compete for one of the most important socio-economic thing a community can have in this modern century.

The five are never particularly close: idera  claiming to be the senior and vice versa,so the suspicion runs deeper than the shallow nature of this villages. Bamidele said they arrived as family, butted heads and split into five. While the the neighboring can not compete with idera in terms of development, they do have something that Ideras does not;  strong internal unity.

Its not easy to pass through idera without noticing a farm or two, set right on sight- a couple of houses, the one cassava mill and its constant mechanical mourning. Thin statured Bororo with painted eyelids lockinG in corners along road. The church building is also at the entrance of the town. Opposite it is the half collapsed local health center that now housed goats and sheep.

Idera isn’t just racing away from time here, the half mile trek of a road parting buildings sideways is eroded.

“How funny is it that politicians visits here” Bamidele said with a disgruntled voice ” campaigns and afterward election come with a soiree and enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, all this visits from the media and politicians weren’t enough to give them good road, reliable phone service. The town is emptying out as people decided cared less about ill located and underpopulated sub village.

Steady My Emotion

Steady my emotion
Like the ocean on a stary night
Like a tattered kite
In the breeze

Steady my emotion and let me be led into.
empty space filled with love
Let ocean of white blood snake out from my.
chest through Cupid pierced holes

Steady my emotion with fest
hoisted by Hector on the sea to Troy
And let even her gaze fix me to my voyage

Steady my emotion with the sonorous vocal of my minstrel
And let the Ville and hills answer his call
The meadows to their heels to heed

Steady my emotion as the string
effortlessly galloping down willing cracks and creeks
Steady my emotion like the sun ignoring man’s plea rolling out ages and seasons
Let us run not against the sun
For no man prevail at its expense

– Akeredolu Tope

The Poem, And The Author: Issues of self identity-emotion are germane in the present day dispensations and in this poem this revelation is achieved by a simple blending of varieties of genres-picaresque, romance, pastoral and so on. Literally, poetically, the poet equally transcends ordinary communication of message: as such, the various elements deployed in lines (such as alliteration of the “c” sound) achieve a form of linguistic independence as against a ‘linear’ expression which the Russian Formalists called ‘practical language.’ I’ll say this writer is aware and conscious of the popular culture in the way it is adequately portrayed in this poem. Akeredolu Tope obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in English from Adekunle Ajasin Univeristy. He is an unapologetic socio-literary, socio-political critic. He has also researched Kole Omotosho’s popular ‘faction’ Just Before Dawn

ReaderResponse: Provocative Thought on Class

If you ever ask your professor or even yourself why ‘are’ we talking aboutlass privilege? Can’t we just be human beings? Hear-that is exactly what Class privilege is, that you can ask that. Class doesn’t exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Underprivileged folks don’t have that. A poor guy on the street of Abuja or Lagos, doesn’t want to think about Class until he tries for a bank loan, until he goes to one of these religious establishments and he’s either removed to a tatty space or he gets tactically scolded for being who he is. So you even ask what poor means. You sure as hell have class privilege. So here is the joinder: so do you wonder if your class status will deprive you a sit at the front row of gathering at the Eagle Square? When you trek to a nice shop in the watermain part of Lagos, do you feel a lump in your throat about a possible dismissive attitude from rich shoppers?
Do you trouble that your children will not have books and school materials that are about people of their own Class? Or say even go to school at all? Tell me what you’ll tell yourself then, honestly.
Stick your comment!

From the editor’s table

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From The Travel Journal: Transit Between ‘This’ Halfway

The ride in this roofless bus with these cool fellow corp member was exhilarating. There was much laughter and bonding. We were tired but our faces shimmer in the evening twilight and glitter against the red sun. On the iron guard we rested our heads satisfied. We talked, sang the anthem of unity and service. Oh there was worry. It was getting dark, and the condition at the back of a roofless lorry naturally looked worrisome. There, a friend of ours was saying prayers, waving away with some churchy gesture something he called evil witches that sucks blood on the highway. Of course we said our Amens.
The breeze was contained with smiles. The fragrance from the pile of dried elephant grass was tasty and mouth watering. It burned right through our dried throat. But it ended too soon. It was going somewhere we couldn’t follow. We were boarded. Our paths led different ways. We greeted each other with little enthusiasm now and we each said our goodbye and safe trip to these unknown destinations because we were not yet home.

Ehindola Peter

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