Daniel Eran Dilger
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What an Obama Presidency Means for Technology


Daniel Eran Dilger

President Elect Barack Obama won’t actually take office for several weeks, but he’s already given an early glimpse of what he will accomplish in terms of technology. The remaining question is how far he will go to use technology to solve issues under his agenda for the nation.
Power From the People.

Obama’s office has already set up Change.gov, a new website outlining to the public his agenda, the planned transition process, and suggesting the beginnings of a chief executive blog. It also presents a form for directly submitting ideas, inviting citizens, “tell us your ideas and help us solve the biggest challenges facing our country.”

As a candidate, Obama swept past not just John McCain and the incumbent Republican Party, but also the powerful Clinton-led front of the Democratic Party, in both cases using the web to organize support and collect tiny donations from millions of supporters.

While McCain had focused on addressing soft money contributions and in regulating free speech and public funding dollars in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain–Feingold Act) back in 2002, Obama changed how elections of the future will be funded, skirting reliance on big contributors all together and taking his issues directly to people.

Rather than answering to big contributors, Obama now faces a different constituency: the people of the United States. The new president will now face an expectation for the same level of support that individuals have come to expect from companies on the web.


A High Tech Revolution.

While the mainstream media has latched onto Obama’s race as the big headline of his victory, the more interesting story of America’s first African-American president is that race simply didn’t matter in Obama’s campaign.

While the Republicans constantly referred to Sarah Palin’s gender and repeatedly complained of sexism whenever she was called out for releasing another avalanche of nonsensical idiocy, Obama’s campaign made very little of his ethnicity and did not use it as a defense.

His opponents tried to bring up race, such as when they said former US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Republican endorsement of Obama was only made because both men were black. That rabble-rousing was studiously ignored as Obama campaigned on a high tech platform that hovered well above the din of 20th century race-baiting going on below it.

Obama’s platform outlined a series of promises to revolutionize government. Rather than demonizing “Washington” and suggesting that government was a bad idea that needed to be drowned in a bathtub, Obama said he wanted to make government work for people and return it to being relevant to their needs and open to their inspection. That marks a sea change from the Bush Administration, which Obama described as “one of the most secretive, closed administrations in American history.”

“Our nation’s progress has been stifled by a system corrupted by millions of lobbying dollars contributed to political campaigns, the revolving door between government and industry, and privileged access to inside information-all of which have led to policies that favor the few against the public interest,” Obama’s agenda outlines. The solution presented to this problem: technology.

A Transparent and Connected Democracy.

Obama says his presidency “will use cutting-edge technologies to reverse this dynamic, creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens.”

It won’t take very much to radically improve things on that front. Bush’s presidency has been marked by such dramatic failure that experts in playing the devil’s advocate have already challenged themselves to begin making excuses for his legacy before he even leaves office.

One pundit cited by CNN, Harvard political history scholar Barbara Kellerman, said “I think it’s possible when people have stopped being as angry at the Bush administration as they are now … that they will realize that some of this is just … the luck of the draw.”

The Unfortunate Executive.

Kellerman said Bush “has been a quite unlucky president. Certain things happened on his watch that most people don’t have to deal with — a 9/11, a [Hurricane] Katrina, the financial crisis, being three obvious examples.”

Somebody tell Kellerman that Bush’s approval ratings were in the doldrums before 9/11, and that his response to that national disaster was to spend the years between 9/11 and Katrina gutting FEMA, the very group that should have been preparing for those kinds of disasters in the future. Instead, he appointed unqualified people to run it, resulting in unnecessary death due to incompetence, not bad luck.

And the financial crisis? That wasn’t an unlucky accident either; it was the direct fault of the Bush Administration’s deregulation policy in regards to the kinds of financial instruments that Warren Buffett called “financial weapons of mass destruction” back in 2003!

Will Kellerman also make excuses for Bush having to face the consequences of starting a war on the false pretense of WMDs that never existed, while ignoring the real WMDs that were poised to wreck havoc on the national economy when handled without proper oversight?

Historians: Bush presidency ‘battered,’ ‘incompetent,’ ‘unlucky’ – CNN.com
BBC NEWS | Business | Buffett warns on investment ‘time bomb’

Sunshine is the Best Disinfectant.

Bush wasn’t misunderstood and unlucky, he was simply a terrible president. The larger problem was that Americans weren’t aware of how terrible his policies were until it was too late because every decision was, like Winston Churchill’s take on Russia, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

Bush’s administration pushed for war without due diligence in examining the options available by drumming up militant hysteria and calling all critics “unpatriotic.” He passed the Patriot Act under the cover of darkness with demanding urgency. Like any dark, dank corner of shadows, the Bush Administration has come to stink to high heaven. Obama’s remedy is to open up the American government to expose its inner workings to the sunshine of public examination.

Technology will allow that to happen. Starting in 2006, Obama began work with Republican Senator Tom Coburn to pass the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, known as “Google for Government,” which set up a searchable web site at USASpending.gov to provide the public with access to information on federal grants, contracts, loans, and insurance payments.

Where will Obama Take Tech?

From Obama’s first law as a US Senator two years ago addressing web access to government spending, to his high tech campaign harnessing every tech tool from the web to the iPhone, to the current transition website, Obama has exploited technology to spread information effectively. What’s next?

Hire a CTO: Obama will appoint the nation’s first chief technology officer to manage the use of technology in federal agencies “to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.” Rumored for consideration is Sun founder Bill Joy.

John Doerr’s Advice for Barack Obama: Hire Bill Joy – Bits Blog – NYTimes.com

Invest in Science: While Bush dictated a policy of religious-based dogma covering matters of science long before ever appointing a science advisor, giving the position little room for actually offering any advice on climate change or stem cell research, Obama has already committed to investing in research and “changing the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology.”

The federal government is about to be snatched from the 13th century and thrown headlong into the present day. That will mark a dramatic new course for everything the government does. Critics worry that investing in the nation will have a perilously high price tag, apparently unaware that Bush’s spending on ‘faith-based initiatives,’ the war, and handouts to Dick Cheney’s defense profiteers offer plenty of opportunities for re-prioritization of existing funds.

Begin Intellectual Property Reform: rather than just the usual extension of copyright terms, Obama’s staff recognizes the “need to update and reform our copyright and patent systems to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated.” That includes “opening up the patent process to citizen review [to] reduce the uncertainty and wasteful litigation that is currently a significant drag on innovation.”

Obama’s running mate has been criticized for supporting current policy on copyright, but an exposure of government policy to sources of light outside of the lobbyists currently illuminating the dark caves of Washington is likely to change things dramatically.

Knowing The Unknown.

While Obama has outlined a number of other ways he plans to use technology to further the nation’s interests, the biggest factor in applying technology in the new administration relates to Obama’s own intelligence and how he carries it. While Bush and even Palin may have the functional intelligence to carry out an agenda, both demonstrated an arrogant overestimation of their own capacity to make decisions and have ignored the advice and counsel of experts.

Obama carries the even temperament and liberal decisiveness of an intellectual, but he has also shown a welcoming interest in surrounding himself with people who have greater experience and knowledge about specific topics. The most intelligent response to dealing with critically important issues is to recognize that one can accomplish more, more effectively by joining together with other highly qualified people than one can when isolated in a faith-bag that is hermetically sealed off from outside expertise.

Rather than castigating the “elite,” looking down upon intellectuals as a threat to his preconceived notions about the world, and immediately calling his victory a windfall of political capital he was giddy to spend recklessly in partisan policies, Obama has assembled experts from Warren Buffett, the world’s wealthiest, advising him on financial issues to a team of 300 people working on foreign policy.

Obama shows no hesitancy in relying on experts to help him develop policy and solve problems, an outlook clearly evident in his selection of Joe Biden as his running mate. McCain picked an unknown governor with little more than charismatic skin appeal to help him govern.

It nearly seems like a joke to ask what frontiers are left for technology to improve upon the status quo of science-hostile, dark age, anti-intellectualism in today’s American government. Where would you start?

Other articles on current events:

What Prop 8 Means to America
Mormons, Fundamentalists, Islamists Back Prop H(8) with Big Bucks
Former FCC Chair Reed Hundt: Issues the next president faces in technology
McCain vs. Obama Presidential Pop Quiz: Socialism
McCain, Palin Push Ashley Todd into Limelight. Oops.
Apple gives $100,000 to fight California gay marriage ban
Terrorist Criminal Links to the Presidential Candidates
Obama-Biden, McCain-Palin: Scandals by the Numbers
Terrorist Criminal Links to the Presidential Candidates
The Big Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac Attack
Osama Bin Laden’s Dream of US Economic Collapse
You Know the Drill?
Ten Striking Parallels Between Microsoft and John McCain
Obama’s Apple, McCain’s Microsoft: the Politics of Tech

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  • kt

    Where would you start?

    Targeted policy forums with user ratings system.

    I’m sure 99 percent of the postings on internet forums are pretty much crap, but I think a “people powered” forum, where anyone could start policy threads, might yield the occasional gem.

    One way to “transcend partisanship” would be for forum participants to focus on real problems and try to come up with real solutions. Such a site could have a ratings system that, once an idea achieves a certain threshold of positive reviews, would automatically kick an idea up to someone in the administration for consideration.

    Another idea, along these lines, would be to set up a national “modeling” research site where everything from modified stock trading rules, regulation ideas and taxation schemes to alternative voting frameworks could be researched to explore how proposed changes affect real-world systems. Human beings with all our foibles, can’t yet be adequately modeled, so these alternative “markets” would be a good way to see how systemic changes fare in the real world with real people.

    Policies based on successful simulations would be, by their very nature, scientific, non-partisan and would be a way to break out of battles of “progressive” vs “flat” taxation, “regulation” vs “laissez faire” etc. We’d have concrete proof of what works and what doesn’t and could base national policy on facts rather than idology.

    Lots of other ideas but I’ll stop there

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    Where would I start?

    Contact lenses for Sarah Palin. Come on people: we can do this!

  • Tardis

    Congratulations, America, on electing an intelligent man whom the rest of the world can respect as your new President!

  • http://www.adviespraktijk.info Berend Schotanus

    Congratulations with what is seen today as the election of the first Black President of the United States, but might be remembered tomorrow as the election of the first Internet President of the United States!

    And thank you for this story. I have been fascinated by the role technology appeared to play in the Obama campaign, which received little attention in the regular media. There was this real clever iPhone app, there were all those YouTube movies and there is probably much much more. I’m glad to hear your confirmation technology did play a big role and I am sure interested to learn more.

  • Dorotea

    Erase the deficit. Start paying down the debt. Then take the money that we currently use to service debt and spend on social services, education, technology, universal health care.

    We are paying too much in servicing debt. It will be painful to get rid of this, but would bring tremendous rewards.

  • gplawhorn

    “Where would you start?”

    It would be nice to see the government really understand the power of the “net.” By that I don’t simply mean the infrastructure that exists, and has existed for more than a decade, known as “the internet.”

    Rather, it’s the non-linear means of communication – the “web” – that is available to us. For example – I sent an email to an 80-member email group on Wednesday; by Thursday afternoon I learned that it had reached more than 1,500 people. Newspapers don’t do that; radio doesn’t do that; mere telephone calls don’t do that.

    I’m not sure that any of the candidates really understood that, although Mr. Obama might have been more open to it than Mr. McCain.

    What I would like to hear, from any candidate, is how THEY viewed the non-linear process of the web, and what changed within their campaigns as a result of what they observed.

    There is at least one danger to this form of communication – the “wikipedia” effect, statements that sound authoritative, but are actually inaccurate or even hoaxes. Rather than having a handful of news sources, often with obvious agendas, we now have, potentially, millions of news sources.

    The need for critical thinking skills has never been higher. If we fail to exercise those skills, we cannot expect any leadership body to take the web seriously.

    Finally, we can all learn something very important from Mr. Obama – how to be a gracious winner, rather than gloating in victory – time to move forward, Daniel, following our President-elect’s example.

  • dixonge

    and on top of all that, I found a cool photo with President-elect Obama sitting next to a MacBook – I really hope he uses those. Fill the White House up with ’em. Bush=PC, Barack=Mac

  • gus2000

    I can’t wait to read Obama blog entries like “The GOP Wants to stimulate the economy with deregulation. They’re wrong, here’s why.”

  • SD

    I would start by legalizing industrial hemp. Talk about a boon to our agricultural and energy sectors! We’ve been ignoring the technology of that plant for seventy years. (Except for a short stint during WWII.) We can develop this technology and export it to the world.

  • http://www.brightstone.com Richard Hermanson

    What I would like to see is some concepts of open source software development used in law making. I would like to see a Wikipedia style website that has all US and state lawbooks, and proposed new laws, posted for comment and review by citizens.

    If proposed new laws could be viewed in their entirety before votes by lawyers, law students and private individuals, perhaps we could avoid these legal travesties that get passed in the middle of the night unread by the very lawmakers who are voting on them.

    I would also like to see us continually fine tune and update our current law, and bring it out of the darkness for all to see. Which, of course, might be more terrifying than helpful.

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  • bft

    I would build light rail in the middle of the interstates and/or put 100,000 windmills there.

  • stefn

    I would start by revising the federal budget to reflect capital expenses for basic infrastructure and services. Which we do not.

    As it is now, we do not debate, define, or amortize what are our capital investments over their lifetime as assets. We do not discriminate between these costs and current consumption expenses.

    So for example, what I would deem essential systems in the US such as broadband ranks sixteenth in the world and we pay far more for far less broadband service than do other countries.

    Here’s a good summary of the problem: http://www.newamerica.net/files/NAF_10big_Ideas_10.pdf

  • stefn

    Let me rephrase that last paragraph:

    So for example, what I would deem an essential system in the US—broadband—ranks sixteenth in the world and we pay far more for far less broadband service than do other countries.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    @Richard Hermanson

    Great idea. It’s not the first time that I’ve heard it. In fact there’s been a general (albeit strictly geeky) movement behind the open sourcing of government (including lawmaking) for some years. Let’s hope Obama sees something in it and the idea doesn’t die a libertarian death on the fringes with Ron Paul!

    “Ignorance of the law us no defence.” So says the law. Yet does one single man or woman anywhere know All The Law? The way politicians churn out new ones, and endlessly ammend others, makes me think not! What madness.

  • Hussein

    Bill Joy is an excellent choice.

  • acoustic_engr

    “Obama changed how elections of the future will be funded, skirting reliance on big contributors all together and taking his issues directly to people.”
    If only that were so, unless you consider “only” 60% coming from big contributors as “skirting reliance”.
    See: http://www.takimag.com/site/article/establishment_messiah/
    From that link:
    “Obama’s campaign would have us believe that he’s the anti-corporate candidate, a populist “man of the people” whose race for the White House is being funded by tens and twenties sent in by ordinary folks who can’t wait to see him crack down on Wall Street abuses. What they don’t want you to know is that, out of the two and a half million donors to the Obama campaign, around 180,000 top dogs account for almost 60% of his campaign treasury.”
    I sincerely hope that he does ignore the big money interests and listen to to people like you stated he will, since we’re the ones he’s suppose to be responsible to, but that big money is going to expect something for their contributions. Let’s hope Obama is stronger than that.

  • enzos

    >… Obama’s campaign made very little of his ethnicity and did not use it as a defense<

    One might add here that Obama’s ethnicity is pretty much a moving target: his Mom is white, his biological Dad is Kenyan (not black American) and he was schooled in Indonesia and then Hawaii and brought up in part by his Indonesian step-dad and more-so by his mother’s parents. It would be drawing a long bow for either side to label him ‘black american’… except that that is the ethnic identity that he has adopted and which – through his work, his wife and family, etc. – he earned a right to assume.

    Just my thoughts… on another beautiful tropical day in Suva.

    CONGRATULATIONS! and THANKS! from the rest of us by the way; the free world is now be in savvy and more capable hands… no more the need for you lot to cringe when your government is mentioned by Canadians and assorted patronizing foreigners.

  • The Mad Hatter

    Obama says his presidency “will use cutting-edge technologies to reverse this dynamic, creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens.”

    Open Source Government is what he is talking about. An interesting concept, and if it works as well as I suspect it could (assuming it’s done properly) it could remake the United States into a true beacon of freedom, instead of the fake one that has existed since the Civil War.

    And in effect this is what the founders were trying to do, back in the late 1700’s, it’s just that they didn’t know how to do it.

  • hodari

    congratulations to all who voted in the first “Black” President of USA!. B for Barrack, B for Black and B for Best!. We will reconvene in four years time to review the results.

  • Tardis

    B for Barack! Don’t forget “B for Broadband”.

    Part of the reason we have such great broadband here in Japan – 16 times the speed at half the price – is the great railway system, which is much more efficient and environmentally sound than gas-guzzling commuting. People live close to the railway stations, and you can lay optic fibre cables down the tracks. So unlike the US’s disastrous automobile-based housing developments, broadband can rapidly follow citizens …..

    So we know that Obama can figure out technology and the environment by himself, but will he bring in past visionaries like Al Gore to help?

    Will either of them promote development of railway systems in the US?

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir


    Well, in all fairness, all you have to do is look at a map…

    Japan and Britain are small, narrow islands with highly centralised populations. 40+ million people live on the Kanto Plain alone don’t they? London too has 25 million or so people centred around it. The US meanwhile has many, smaller centres of population spaced far, far further apart.

    You can build a single railway line in Japan or Britain which can access half the whole country’s population. That is precisely what was done. Once the railways were in place, population movement increased centralisation along them in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    (Yielding what are also highly homogenous cultures and political views in the process, when compared to disparate, diverse, expansive America I might add. Speaking as a Scot in Edinburgh who speaks English anyone in London wouldn’t think twice about.)

    I’m not anti-railway – though in Britain it is easy to be as former generations made a total mess of ours despite a worldwide head start – but they are far better suited to island geographies like here in Britain and there in Japan. The larger the landmass, and the further apart the cities, the greater the power of the airplane and car.

  • Tardis

    John Muir { 11.08.08 at 10:04 am } said: @Tardis “Well, in all fairness, all you have to do is look at a map…”

    I look at maps as my job. I know America is different, a big mainland like Europe & Asia, China & Russia compared to offshore “centres of excellence” like the United Kingdom and Japan.

    But do not let us forget that the railway played an important role in opening up the American continent to European peoples’ expansion, once horse-drawn wagons had shown the way. This happened about 150 years ago. The first airplane flight was 100 years ago, but commercial flights for ordinary people only became possible less than 50 years ago. The motor vehicle as a transportation system for people to cross the continental US has come and gone since then. Meanwhile, the best transportation systems and the most environmentally sound energy systems have been manipulated by political influence, especially in the US. The American public transport system has not been kept up to date.

    In the Asian model, when a successful economy creates growth in technology industries, the demand for new housing and new communities is met by railway systems and residential developments around the stations. The alternative model, where you have a huge land-mass, such as the US, old-fashioned thinking said “this land is cheap, so we can use lots of it” and squandered it on suburban development that did not make use of railways but depended on the motor vehicle. This is fine for agricultural development, and even early industrial use, but modern technology and commerce depends on many people working together. The idea that such concentrations of working people should disperse every night to sprawling low-rise residential suburbs that have been created a vast distance, and often several hour’s drive, from their work place gave rise to the huge increase in US housing construction during the mid-2000’s, which resulted in the sub-prime loan disaster and the current worldwide economic meltdown. In contrast, Asian cities’ developments centred around railway stations are able to rapidly recover from one industry’s failure by supporting another new industry.

    And, to go back to my main point, where you have a concentration of [affluent and technology-capable] people living close to trains, you can easily connect them to the highest-speed broadband connection.

    Conversely, if being connected is an important part of current lifestyle, having people live close to efficient public transportation systems is an environmentally-friendly goal.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir


    Regarding house prices: Britain is almost as compact and urbanised as Japan, and our housing market was so out of control that if the population sizes were reversed: Britain would have triggered the financial crisis instead of America. The average selling price for small single bedroomed flats in my native Edinburgh was approaching half a million dollars just last year. The nation’s wealth was being funnelled into its limited supply of ageing housing stock instead of into stocks and shares, and therefore investment: as is more the case in America.

    But yes, I do broadly agree with you. The issue with America though is initial conditions. Any expert on communication and transportation systems could easily say of America: “I wouldn’t have started from here.”

  • stefn

    Just to broaden this discussion, here’s the list of ideas that The New America Foundation came up with; its board includes both Fallows and Fukuyama. See link at my above posting. Lots of tech implications in it.

    Every Baby a Trust Fund Baby
    Closing the $700 Billion Tax Loophole
    Instant Runoff Voting
    Mandatory, Affordable Health Insurance
    Tax Consumption, Not Work
    A College Access Contract
    A Capital Budget for Public Investment
    A Universal 401(k) Plan
    An Energy Efficiency Trading System

  • gus2000

    America became dependent on our cars (and addicted to oil) not by coincidence nor market forces, but by deliberate public policies. Perhaps there was a natural push to the suburbs, but we encouraged, fostered, and subsidized this behavior to our own detriment.

    I would start with our cheap gas. Many believe that the minuscule federal tax on gasoline pays for the roads. Not true, not even close. Gas would be closer to $7 per gallon if the costs for road construction and upkeep were in there. Instead, we take the money from the general fund, which separates the behavior (driving) from it’s associated costs; roads appear to be “free”.

    Geography will obviously influence our urban growth patterns, but public policy can dictate sensibility. Just look at the difference between a city with real public transport, like San Francisco, and compare it to Los Angeles where the bus is for *poor people* (and one-third of the surface area is taken by roads and parking!)

    I started my journey into urban planning by reading “Cities Without Suburbs” by David Rusk, and I highly recommend it as a great start for anyone interested in the subject.

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  • nikki

    “Where would you start?”

    In no particular order:
    – Network neutrality
    – Broadband for all
    – Municipal Wi-Fi
    – Abolish software patents.
    – Require use of open standards for all public documents.
    – Abolish compulsory schooling, to let literacy levels rise back to their heights of the 1880’s (cf John Taylor Gatto).

  • Dorotea


    Where did you get your information about $7/gallon is true cost of building/maintaining roads. Love to find out if the number is supported. We have “discussions” at work.

  • gus2000

    In 2005, Bush signed a $286 billion highway bill. Statistics from 2004 indicate that the US burned through 140 billion gallons of gasoline, which is about $2 per gallon.



    Of course, the figures do not include state highway money; the annual budget for my home state of Texas is $7 billion. That is for less than 10% of the US population so I think we can easily estimate $70 Billion per year for all states. There’s another 50 cents per gallon.


    And then there’s local city and county roads usually paid for with bonds (loans). I don’t have figures for that and can’t even guess.

    My best estimate comes from the European gas prices, which are currently in the $7 per gallon range due to all the tax. Of course, that tax money is not punitive but rather used for roads and infrastructure, so it provides real-world examples of a self-sustaining transportation fuel price.


    I’d like to see a moratorium on new road construction, which should lead us to better alternatives. Trying to solve traffic congestion by building more roads is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger clothes.

  • Tardis

    The Bush Legacy: “experts in playing the devil’s advocate have already challenged themselves to begin making excuses for his legacy before he even leaves office … cited by CNN, Harvard political history scholar Barbara Kellerman, said “I think it’s possible ……… this [9/11, Katrina, economic meltdown etc.] is just … the luck of the draw.”

    Of course Dan rubbished such a whitewash. The fact is however, that Bush is leaving skeletons in the White House closet that a transparent administration may be forced to reveal.

    So the opposite may be true, that history judges Bush as EVEN WORSE than people think of him today.

    For a clue, watch out for those Presidential Pardons!

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  • ludachrs

    1st order of business remove agenda from Change.org Let’s all forget my promises!
    2nd order of business hire Hilary and all of the Clinton insiders for real change.
    3rd order of business continue spending like every and raise taxes

    why does change seem so similar to just another politician, hehehe.
    I sure feel warm and fuzzy about my vote now.

  • nat

    @ ludachrs,

    “1st order of business remove agenda from Change.org Let’s all forget my promises!”

    What does Change.org have to do with Obama’s administration? Maybe you meant Change.gov, the first real presidential blog in history. If that’s what you’re talking about well… http://change.gov/agenda/

  • ludachrs

    I stand corrected.

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