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What should a war-weary public think of a whole new spy service for the Pentagon? The brain-child of two wunderkinds of intelligence, the Defense Clandestine Service will ultimately field 1,600 personnel across the world. This sounds like a lot of new spooks. But the reality is a bit different. There is a primer of sorts of what this new spy service will do, and what it won't do.

(1) There won't really be 1,600 new spies. There are already about 600 or so Defense Attaches attached to embassies and consulates. They collect intelligence openly. They will now work more closely with their covert counterparts and are included in the figure that Congress has been given for the size of the DCS. Of the remaining 1,000 personnel, a bunch will come from existing Department of Defense intelligence collection agencies....  More»

 

As you wade through the often confusing political posturing over the impending expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the automatic budget "sequester," consider the following political dynamics that will determine the outcome.

1. President Obama's swagger. More than just a post-election glow, Obama has actual leverage over Republicans, and he is not going to waste it. Some pundits say that Obama's newly confident negotiating posture is the result of lessons learned during the first term wrestling over the debt limit and budgets: He could offer the farm for free and Republicans wouldn't accept it....  More»

 

It remains the archetypal tale about how far governments will go to protect their intelligence secrets, even at great cost to civilians. 

But even though people at the top of our intelligence establishment have told me this story, there is clear and convincing evidence that it's not true. Did Winston Churchill, nervous about the Germans discovering that U.K. cypher-crackers had broken their Enigma codes, fail to act on intelligence warning of a Luftwaffe raid against Coventry in November of 1940?

By that time, the small huts full of men and women and Bletchey Park in England were routinely breaking the cypher that encrypted traffic...  More»

 
December 6, 2012, at 3:05 AM

Greetings from the (according to a website that I had never heard of before this week) most promiscuous city for gays in the United States.

Having lived here for six months, I confess I had not thought of our beautiful less-than-two-miles square haven of homosexuality in those terms.

But now, thanks to an entirely unscientific and vapid self-promotional study by a website for sugar daddies, the hoary(!) stereotype of WeHo's gay promiscuity has now gone viral. All the big sites picked up the "news" without comment. And to be frank, a bunch of people here, a bunch of fellow West Hollywood gays, laughed.

This should be a big week for gays in California. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to grant cert to the appellate court decision overturning Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California....  More»

 
December 7, 2012, at 3:35 PM

The U.S Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two gay marriage cases, including one in which federal benefits for a Massachusetts couple were denied under the Defense of Marriage Act, and another that overturned California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The court said it will hear oral arguments in late March. 

The case that has attracted the most attention from advocates and opponents alike is Windsor v. United States. The plaintiff, Edith Windsor, was required to pay a significant federal tax on the estate that she had inherited from her partner, who died in 2009....  More»

 
December 11, 2012, at 1:30 AM

The most compelling show now on television premiered last night, and all it took was a few minutes to hook me in. Luckily, I happened to catch the final few minutes, but that's when the drama really got good. I'm talking about Take It All, Howie Mandel's ingenious new game show, which is getting a trial run this week on NBC.  

Mandel calls the show a mix of Jerry Springer and Deal or No Deal, but he undersells it. It's actually the televised incarnation of one of the most wrenching and well-considered problems in ethics: the Prisoner's Dilemma. There are many variants, but the essence is this: Imagine two accomplices, arrested and charged with a crime. The district attorney separates the two mopes and gives each the same spiel: If they confess and the other prisoner doesn't, they'll go free and the other guy will do hard time....  More»

 
December 11, 2012, at 11:04 PM

Rarely has a small decline in the rate of an increase caused so much commotion. But the news, confirmed this past week, that obesity rates are not growing in certain cities, is an essential and necessary moment for public policy. The dirty little secret among obesity researchers is that many of them will tell you in private that no intervention short of the type of government intrusiveness that is intolerable for most Americans would actually have an impact on the problem. In that, they sound a lot like climate change researchers who despair that the damage done so far to the mechanisms of climate is beyond repair and that mitigation of future...  More»

 
December 14, 2012, at 2:46 PM

There are two factors common to mass shootings in the United States, and a "vector," as the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg says, that links the two.

One is easy access to firearms capable of killing lots of people quickly. The second is the perpetrator's having a history with mental illness. 

On the first, significant minorities of all guns purchased or obtained in the United States are done without the benefit of an instant background check. This is not a loophole; it is a circus ring. The background checks are relatively limited in scope, as is normal....  More»

 
December 14, 2012, at 5:54 PM

Doctors can't save every patient. But they must be able to tell the patient's family that they've done everything they can. Our politicians cannot say the same. Hollywood, by glorifying gun violence, can't say the same. If "guns don't kill people, people kill people," then make it harder for "people" to get guns. And make guns harder to be misused. 

In 11 years of living in Washington, D.C., I  knew one person who was mugged. In the six months since I've lived in LA, I've had a friend raped, two friends mugged at gunpoint, and another was the victim of a gay bashing attack....  More»

 
December 17, 2012, at 8:43 PM

The website of Guns and Ammo, the country's most popular shooting magazine, has nothing to say about the Newtown school massacre. Not on the homepage nor in any of the five blogs, many of which are devoted to stories about politicians found with guns in their luggage (oops!) or home-owners who successfully use weapons in self-defense.

I wonder what they have to say about ammunition. That's because, if there is an overlooked domain in the debate about gun control, it's what to do with the most precious element in the supply chain. The 300 million guns that are in private hands aren't going away; I can't think of any law or incentive program that would suddenly make the disappear. When Australia decided to crack down on gun laws, it managed only to repurchase 600,000....  More»

 
December 20, 2012, at 2:15 AM

Zero Dark Thirty is a movie that makes you feel insignificant, not even a bit player in the meaningful world. This is especially true for those of us who have lived and breathed the subjects of intelligence, special operations, the bin Laden raid, and counter-terrorism after 9/11. Oh, to be the ultimate fly on the wall. What's so great, to me, about the entirety of the chase for Osama Bin Laden is that thing fell together, people made choices, and it worked. The end result was something to laud. It's rare that the system works! And what a redemption story for the intelligence community. 

The context of everything else that happened: Iraq, Islamic blowback, the manipulation of public opinion, the endless counter-terrorism scares, is literally seconded to a television screen in Mark Boal's script....  More»

 

There are two reasons why House Republicans are playing petulant games with the Sandy aid bill. One is the public reason: FEMA still has enough emergency reserves through February, and there's plenty of time to pass a bill extending FEMA funding during the new session of Congress, which begins tomorrow. Okay.

The private reason, and the real reason, is that House Republicans were irate about the spending provisions in the "fiscal cliff" band-aid that was forced down their throat last night by Speaker John Boehner and probably indicated to him, at a late hour, that another spending bill was just not going to wash....  More»

 
January 2, 2013, at 3:12 PM

It's fashionable to bash House Republicans these days as no-knowing Tea-Party-controlled rubes who are responsible for the destruction of the Grand Old Party. But who is responsible for the House Republicans? Proximately, the Tea Party movement and the intellectual/corporate forces behind it can take some credit for establishing a defensive weapon inside Congress that makes it very hard to compromise. But ultimately, both the Democratic and Republican parties are responsible for the strategy that has so polarized this chamber of Congress in the first place....  More»

 
January 3, 2013, at 3:14 PM

A House Republican conference on the brink of revolt a few days ago handily re-elected John Boehner to be their leader today, and from one perspective, that's a curiosity. What have Republicans won with Boehner as their leader? Not a popularity contest. Not the budget battle. Not much leverage to use in further fights with President Obama. He is not a party leader who is universally beloved by the GOP think tank/talk radio activist class (although GOP leaders rarely are). He is not even someone (unlike Speaker Dennis Hastert) who refused to bring a bill to the floor unless it had the majority of the majority (i....  More»

 
January 3, 2013, at 3:27 PM

There are two ways to look at the policy fights in Washington. One is that the just-completed fiscal cliff deal is one round of four, with each side emboldened to approach the next round with new wind at their backs. The other is that the fiscal cliff deal sets the tone for the next three battles, and each, while painful and full of theater, will resolve themselves somewhat predictably.

Remember: The debt ceiling expired at the end of the year, but the Treasury can move money around until the middle of February. That's "Round Two." Round Three is the resumption of the sequester spending cuts, which are mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act; half will come from defense, half will come from domestic spending. The budget deal delayed their implementation by two months, to March 2....  More»

 
January 6, 2013, at 1:13 PM

Soon after Barack Obama was first elected president, an aide told me that Obama hoped to make his mark on the Department of Defense in a very specific way: After then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stepped down a few years hence, Obama would nominate a strong Democrat to the post, establishing a precedent of sorts for the building and for the Democratic Party after years of perceived weakness on national security matters. Leon Panetta was a natural fit. But Obama, in nominating Chuck Hagel, a Republican former senator from Nebraska, has new priorities now that he's been president and understands the massive institutional and political obligations...  More»

 
January 6, 2013, at 11:17 PM

The twist looked gruesome. Robert Griffin III, the wunderkind quarterback of the Washington Redskins, was attempting to plant his legs and scoop up a fumbled snap, and the ligaments in his knee seemed to just disappear. His knee rotated about 90 degrees too far. Football fans were reminded of the injury suffered by Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann in 1985.

On television, the producer of Fox's coverage mercifully ordered only a few replays. Griffin walked off the field on his own accord, said a few words to his coach, Mike Shanahan, and went into the locker room....  More»

 
January 8, 2013, at 9:38 PM

Soon we will learn the Oscar nominees for 2012. For history buffs, it's been a fabulous year, with so many great pictures to choose from. Here in Los Angeles, I've heard some friends debate whether Django Unchained or Lincoln deserves to win the Best Picture Academy Award, knowing for certain that both will be nominated.

Here's my verdict: Django Unchained is probably the best movie about slavery, ever.

I write this having enjoyed Steven Spielberg's Lincoln much more, and knowing that its screenwriter, Tony Kushner, tried to be faithful to the historiography in its broad strokes and the details. I write this having read Sean Wilentz's review of Lincoln in The New Republic, where he rightfully places the film high in the pantheon of portrayals of the Civil War....  More»

 
January 8, 2013, at 10:20 PM

I see no reason why the Senate won't confirm John Brennan, President Obama's chief counter-terrorism adviser, to be the next director of the CIA. There will be pro forma inquiries into his past entanglements with the NSA's domestic surveillance program and his knowledge and approval of the CIA's "Greystone" torture protocols, but he will have ready answers for the questions and he will say plenty in private to soothe the concerns of those whose concerns need to be soothed.

Assuming Brennan becomes the DCIA, as he will thenceforth be acronymed, he'll inherit a powerful spy agency facing a set of tough questions....  More»

 

Piers Morgan had it easy. Radio show host and author Alex Jones threatened the rest of us with a "revolution" if the government decides to confiscate guns from the homes and glove compartments of law-abiding Americans. It's almost too easy to dismiss Jones as a fringe figure, especially since fringe ideas make their way into the mainstream with (exciting? alarming?) frequency these days. So let's take him seriously.

Let's accept his premise. Actually, let's dismiss it first but then turn around and accept it for the sake of argument. The government has not the means nor the mechanism nor the credibility to confiscate 100,000 guns, much...  More»

 
January 11, 2013, at 12:35 AM

Having spent seven months living outside of Washington, D.C., I'm still getting used to a couple of things. One of them is having friends for whom politics, American politics, simply does not exist. I drove a friend to the airport last night, and we happened to be flipping through the satellite radio channels, when my friend asked me, rather nonchalantly, "so when is the government going to start collecting the guns?" My friend is a liberal who has no exposure whatsoever to right-wing talk radio. But he hasn't read a newspaper in years, by his own admission. He doesn't have the time or inclination to engage in politics. It is simply an "other" to him. It took him a week to hear about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

So I was surprised to hear him ask a question whose premise is absurd....  More»

 
January 11, 2013, at 1:11 AM

The first thing you learn about Denis McDonough, the man President Obama will probably select as his next chief of staff, is that he is an addict. His addiction isn't dangerous, but it is one he will have to do without, what with his new cabinet status and Secret Service detail. McDonough likes to sweat. He bikes to work, even in the most treacherous conditions. It's when he does his best thinking. (Random tip: Work on your toughest work or personal priorities right when you get up, before you do anything else. Your brain is primed for it.)  

The second thing to know about McDonough is that his top qualification is that the president trusts...  More»

 
January 14, 2013, at 3:46 PM

The president of the National Rifle Association says President Obama is to blame for the surge in weapons stockpiling after the recent spate of mass shootings. He's right. But that's only part of the story. The reason why Americans are afraid is because the NRA exists to make them afraid, as does (as I and many others have explained) the echochamber that the conservative activist media lives in.

It's not that the NRA is trying to push up gun sales, although their corporate members I'm sure are happy with that as an after effect. (These corporations give heavily to the NRA's "non-profit" advocacy arms....  More»

 
January 14, 2013, at 11:29 PM

In 2011, President Obama was pilloried for, in the case of NATO's action in Libya, refusing to formally invoke the War Powers Resolution, which requires 48-hour notification to Congress anytime the United States participates in a war that Congress has yet to authorize. After such a formal invoking, the president would have 60 days to do the job before Congress had to give its assent. 

The administration said that its actions in Libya were mostly "non-kinetic," was in service of a U.N. resolution, didn't involve troops on the ground, and ultimately the NATO coalition that helped the country finish off its revolution was not led by an American commander. Most of the materiel involved in the Libya conflict belonged to the category of ISR — "intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance" and EW — "electronic warfare," although ...  More»

 

The president is, right now, in control of the debate about the debt ceiling. He is not in control of how the conflict with House Republicans, which is really a conflict within the House Republican conference, will end. In theory,  the U.S. treasury could simply print money equivalent to the balance between the amount Congress has authorized the government to spend and the debt-conditioned "ceiling" imposed on such spending by Congress. The U.S. dollar is not tied to any particular piece of metal, or "specie," and while minting a platinum coin and injecting it into the system (thereby allowing the Treasury to spend what it has been authorized to spend) could be inflationary, it is essentially a fairly neat solution to a problem that shouldn't be there in the first place....  More»

 
January 15, 2013, at 10:32 PM

From time to time, I'm going to pass along articles that the networked cognoscenti care about and take to Twitter to debate and comment. It's a useful way for me to get in a bit of curated reading at the end of the day, and I hope it does the same for you.

* Scientology is either a religion ascending (their own contention, bolstered by advertorials in places like the Atlantic), or a religion about to implode from a "real estate scam" and a new sure-to-be best-seller by Lawrence Wright. (BuzzFeed)

Obama to Bibi: Buzz off. Haaretz analyzes the personal relationship between the two leaders on the eve of the Israeli elections. Their conclusion: Obama is committed to Israel; Netanyahu.. he may just as well ignore.

Did the Syrian government use chemical weapons against its people?...  More»

 
January 16, 2013, at 3:13 PM

There was a weird word that emerged from the Detroit Auto Show this week: "Innovation."

The roster of new American cars is packed with innovations this year, outshining the latest offers from Germany and Japan. Two cases in point: the Tesla Model X, which, though at prototype stage, would revolutionize the electric car market if it became popular, and the 2014 Corvette Stingray, which uses the latest in lightweight materials and has an expected fuel efficiency of more than 26 miles per gallon. Indeed, the entire show seemed to be a showcase for technological advancements that both reflects and advances the demand for more environmentally friend cars....  More»

 
January 16, 2013, at 7:13 PM

Lance Armstrong has reportedly admitted to Oprah Winfrey that, yes, he doped, despite years of denials, obfuscation, lies, and evasions. Thursday, the first of two parts of her interviews airs, and already, even before we know what Armstrong has said, sports commentators are debating whether he will be able to rehabilitate his sure-to-be-tarnished image. 

That's odd. Armstrong cannot be admitted to our celeb image rehab mill until he admits he has a problem. If his motivation for conceding his lies is that he is faced with jail, or banishment, or fines, then he is not voluntarily confessing anything. He is changing what he does in order to avoid more pain for himself, and not because he has come to believe that he did was wrong. 

The bill of particulars is pretty bad, and the documentary evidence collected by world anti-doping authorities...  More»

 

Here are the headlines and headliners you'll be talking about today: 

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wants to raise $1 billion per year for transportation in his state, breaking with austerity-minded Republican governors elsewhere. Snyder is trying to mend wounds from a divisive legislative session that included the imposition of a "right-to-work" law in his state, where Democratic-leaning unions have long been influential. 

Mohammed Morsi, the President of Egypt, now says he wasn't referring to Jews when he said, two years ago, that Egyptians must learn to hate "Jews," and called Zionists "bloodsuckers," and "pigs," and a bunch of other things. (His words were revealed by an opposition TV station, which, if you think about it, is a small sign of political health....  More»

 
January 17, 2013, at 11:14 AM

Boy (stellar Notre Dame football linebacker) meets girl online. Boy falls in love; boy talks to girl on the phone. Boy allegedly meets with girl in person after a game in 2009. Boy tells ESPN he talks to girlfriend every night on the telephone; boy loses grandmother. Boy loses girl to leukemia within hours of losing his grandmother. Television producers see an angle; boy tweets his grief for girl; audience says "awww," Notre Dame has a hero; boy gets phone call from number he associates with the girl on Dec. 6; boy tells Notre Dame about formerly dead girl on Dec....  More»

 
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