The Atlantic Daily: Insight and Oversight

Obama expanded surveillance powers, Trump allies pushed back on a government watchdog, TV took stock of current politics, and more.

Dado Ruvic / Reuters

What We’re Following

Government Watchers: Yesterday, with just a week left before Trump’s inauguration, the Obama administration finalized a new set of surveillance rules. The changes give the NSA power to share raw data with other U.S. intel groups that apply for access, before a set of required privacy protections are applied. For privacy advocates, the move causes serious concern: By expanding the number of people allowed to see data that’s often collected without warrants, it increases the risk of innocent people’s private info being exposed. On the other hand, according to an expert in national-security law, these rules have been in the works for as many as 15 years and don’t change the scope of data collected. Indeed, finalizing the rules now may stop the new administration from expanding surveillance powers further.

Government Watchdogs: After the head of the Office of Government Ethics denounced as “meaningless” Trump’s plan to address his conflicts of interest, Trump’s allies—including House Oversight chair Jason Chaffetz—are harshly criticizing the independent agency. Elsewhere in Congress, Republicans are working to scale back federal oversight of U.S. businesses, arguing that such regulations prevent economic growth. But deregulation has its own risks—evident, for example, in the Detroit school system, where charter schools have exploded with little accountability for student success, partly thanks to the loopholes in legislation supported by Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos.

Government, Watched: This week, the characters of ABC’s Black-ish dealt with the aftermath of the U.S. election in an episode that artfully combined the expression of anger with a plea for empathy.* Over on PBS, a new series on Queen Victoria brings a message of political empowerment to young female viewers. That message is timely, but also timeless: Beside that 19th-century drama, the film 20th Century Women offers a more modern story of women’s strength and resilience.


A vendor hands a drink to a policeman across a razor-wire fence in Jakarta, Indonesia, on January 10. See more of the week’s best photos here. (Beawiharta / Reuters)

Evening Read

Will Di Novi on a psychologist’s database of dreams about President Obama:

In the early dreams, Obama is a figure of messianic powers, resolving disputes, levitating objects, and, in one eerily prophetic dream, ripping off Osama Bin Laden’s fingers with his teeth. Around the time of the 2010 midterms, he begins to succumb to the political crises that the dreamers were following in the news. A 54-year-old woman from Washington State dreams of a sinister conspiracy involving “GM and the big oil companies,” who are staging the BP Oil Spill to make Obama look bad. A 2011 report shows a 50-year-old dreamer reacting to the news that his wife “doesn’t think she likes Obama any more.”

Obama continues to struggle in dreams from his second term. He is insulted at social gatherings and shows up to a speech “crippled and in a wheelchair.” But even as Obama has been worn down by the rigors of the presidency, [researcher Kelly] Bulkeley’s liberal subjects have maintained their fondness for the man behind the institution. They dream of drinking beers with him at parties. They dream of meeting him for lunch dates. As one of Bulkeley’s longtime subjects, an East Coast liberal, puts it in a dream report from 2015: “[Obama] acknowledges my presence in some way. ... His presence is strong.”

Keep reading here, as Di Novi considers what dreams can reveal about America’s political life.

What Do You Know?

1. Scientists believe the planet Mars could have developed life in the same way as Earth, if not for a crucial difference in its ____________.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2.  A new study suggests that in Europe, Australia, and the U.S., conservative politicians are more ____________ on average than liberal ones.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. Pan-resistant infections develop when different bacteria exchange antibiotic-resistant DNA, and one place that’s particularly friendly to this process is ____________.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Poem of the Week

From our July/August 2016 issue, “Tools” by Campbell McGrath:

Wheels sigh with longing for the horizon.

Hunger moans in the spoon’s hollow belly.

Tools recount the needs from which they arose

and so comprise a history of human desire.

Read the whole poem here. Above, for our America by Air series, reader Jimmy Rollinson shares a photo of snowy crop circles in Nebraska:

I am sure someone with a large telescope in the Milky Way Galaxy is looking at this, asking: “What are they trying to tell us?”

See more aerial photos of America here, and send us your own snapshots via (guidelines here).

Reader Response

Ta-Nehisi Coates did an “Ask Me Anything” yesterday afternoon with the TAD group, sharing his thoughts on comic books and blogging as well as Trump and race relations. Here’s one exchange he had with a reader:

What’s the best way for a white person to be an ally and advocate for social justice while de-centering oneself?

I don’t know. This isn’t really what I’d ask of anyone. I know the vocabulary here is popular. But it’s not really the kind I’d use or ask be used around me.

I think it’s really important to be conscious of yourself and the world around you. For me, that meant reading a lot and reporting. I don’t know that white people need to be “allies” so much as understand that any black struggle in America, is ultimately, a struggle for the large country. Ally presumes a kind of distance that I am not sure exists.

More reader questions, along with Ta-Nehisi’s responses, here.

The Atlantic Daily is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. To contact us, email

*This newsletter originally misstated that Black-ish airs on NBC. We regret the error.