October 1, 2012, at 10:04 PM

In the parlance of the government, the powerful Gen. Keith Alexander is a "dual-hat."  

As director of the National Security Agency, which collects intelligence and keeps and breaks codes, he must operate under the rules of Title 50 of the U.S. code. As the head of the United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), he simply puts on a different hat: Title 10 of the U.S. code, which proscribes conduct for military operations, is his guide.  

This germ of a lesson in bureaucratic descriptionaring is a lot more important than it might seem. Alexander is the nation's chief defender of cyberspace, its chief collector of information about cyber threats, and its chief wager of cyberwarfare.

Consider a recent report that Chinese hackers had compromised the White House Military Office's communications systems....  More»

October 2, 2012, at 4:34 PM

DENVER, COLO. — Forget expectations. Both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney walk into their first debate with several significant vulnerabilities that the right question and right answer will either expose or cover. These are domestic policy vulnerabilities, not characterological ones, but they speak to character and mien. We'll start with Obama's trouble spots. 

1. Mortgages. Why didn't he do more to make whole the nation's record number of delinquencies? Why did he bail out the banks and not force them to use the money (because, you know, he did force them to use the money in certain ways) to settle with homeowners?...  More»

October 2, 2012, at 7:36 PM

DENVER, COLO. — Tomorrow night, the extent to which Mitt Romney's policy vulnerabilities are plucked at by the moderator and Barack Obama may depend on whether the media gets over its obsession with Romney's relatively unknowable inner essence. The two are, of course, related.

1. So what's he going to do? He has a five-point plan to revive the economy that he cannot pay for using any mathematical system available to homo sapiens. He has given conflicting signals on how much of ObamaCare he'll keep and how much he'll throw away. He has no answer about how he might deal with a Democratic Senate....  More»

October 3, 2012, at 1:49 PM

DENVER, COLO. — Rarely is anything fair in politics. But debates are a different story.

Consider: Even though the president is the president, he and Mitt Romney will arrive at the University of Denver and walk down the same tented chute secured by the Secret Service; their limos will park next to each other; the order of their arrival was determined by a coin flip, as was the order they'll do a debate stage walkthrough, as was the location of the workspaces provided to the two campaigns. Note: Each campaign gets the EXACT SAME amount of workspace to the square foot and the same number of bathrooms, electrical connections, and internet access. 

(Who gets the first question: coin flip. Obama won.)

(Who gets to stand at which podium: coin flip....  More»

October 3, 2012, at 2:43 PM

It's on page A9 of The New York Times. "Netanyahu Appears To Be Shifting Israel's Iran Policy Toward More Sanctions." The story appears to confirm a policy shift. It begins by noting that the Israeli Prime Minister plans to visit Europe late in the year to press for tighter EU sanctions against Iran. And it suggests that the time-frame for a possible Israeli strike against the country is not in the cards until at least mid-2013. That is, as the article notes, well after the U.S. election. 

This means two things. Netanyahu lacks either the political credibility to strike Iran right now, that he lacks the resolve to do it without U....  More»

October 3, 2012, at 11:00 PM

Mitt Romney won this first debate, judging by style, by his ability to get the message out, and by substance. Whether he did well enough to swing the polls back to parity is questionable. The Republican echo-chamber is likely to cheer loudly and their enthusiasm will tick up. Democrats will mutter about why Obama didn't mention Romney's "47 percent" gaffe, and campaign outsiders will mumble about the campaign's alleged insularity and arrogance.

Maybe the bar was set too low for Romney. He proved himself, yet again, in case you didn't watch the GOP debates, to be a strong competitor in full command of his brief, and importantly, he was able to articulate...  More»

October 4, 2012, at 11:19 AM

Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, concedes that Americans tend to be skeptical of activist government, tend to believe that government is not able to solve big problems and is suspicious of the distribution of rewards and resources. This is the culmination of a 40-years-long conservative philosophical ascendency that has shifted public opinion to the right. At the same time, government's size and reach has grown significantly. This disjunction is at the heart of the Democratic Party's long-term dilemma, which is that Americans are increasingly isolated from and not cognizant of the role government plays in their lives and are more skeptical, generically, of that role. 

But there is another axis, too, one that keeps Reagan Democrats Democrats and one that, thanks to the economic turbulence of the last three years, has grown increasingly...  More»

October 5, 2012, at 12:53 PM

Mitt Romney's rousing debate performance gave his campaign a much-needed shot of, well, "chance-to-win" serum. And the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent as the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised estimates from previous months. Here, President Obama, is your not-so-anemic recovery!  

Ron Fournier of National Journal tweeted that the latter is better than the former and Obama won the week. It plays to Obama's "trajectory argument," he wrote. And voters know that "7" is better than "8." NBC's First Read team notes that the positive press coverage from the news will help guide the news coverage over the next 24 to 48 hours, and since the first real polls ...  More»

October 5, 2012, at 1:34 PM

The most famous moment from the second presidential debate in 1992, the moment that arguably cinched the deal for Bill Clinton, was not, as many pundits today would have it, when George H.W. Bush was caught looking at his watch.

It was how both candidates responded to one question: "How has the national debt affected each of your lives, and if it hasn't, how can you honestly find a cure for the economic problems of the common people if you have no experience in what's ailing them?"

Bush started his answer: "I think the national debt affects everybody. Obviously, it has a lot to do with interest rates."  

The  questioner interrupted: "You, on a personal basis?" Moderator Carole Simpson interjected: "You, personally?"  

Bush began to try to answer: "Well, I love my grandchildren....  More»

October 8, 2012, at 6:55 PM

In the 2008 presidential campaign, some of Obama's top advisers would use a thought experiment to project how important the election of someone like Obama would be for the furtherance of American interests in the world. It went something like this:

There is a youth bulge in the Middle East and North Africa. Imagine you are one of those young men, born into a lower middle class family in Egypt or Pakistan, are educated by a combination of poor state institutions and local Islamic influences. You grew up and noticed as America launched two wars against mainly Muslim countries, and if you lived in Pakistan, you may even have experienced terrorism and...  More»

October 10, 2012, at 6:27 PM

It would be tempting to assume that, because the political class is obsessed with the vice presidential debate, that Americans will transmute their feelings about the relative debating skills of the vice presidential candidates onto their mental projections of the presidential candidates. Beyond one basic threshold — that of competence — that hasn't happened.  

The reason why Joe Biden's debate with Sarah Palin mattered so much last cycle is that Palin had yet to cross the competency threshold. She did not appear to be ready to be on stage with three other national political figures who could plausibly be president....  More»

October 10, 2012, at 6:35 PM

It was hard to watch today's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearings without wincing. We winced when the regional security officer for Libya, Eric Nordstrom, told of his intense frustrations with the State Department's bureaucracy, which apparently did not agree with his assessment of the security situation for diplomats in Benghazi. And we winced when the top State official for diplomatic security, Charlene Lamb, admitted that there was a resource gap; she did the best with the resources she had.  I winced when the same Republicans who voted to restrict funding for the State Department complained that the Obama administration should have done more with less. 

The death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans has become a political flashpoint for two reasons....  More»

October 11, 2012, at 11:20 PM

With brio, boisterous body language, and bravado, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday beat away Democratic blues over Barack Obama's meek debate last week. But his command performance, which impressed the political class and exposed significant policy vulnerabilities of the Romney-Ryan ticket, may have come across as too aggressive and perhaps even erratic for voters who have yet to form an opinion about the race.

Two instant polls, not terribly scientific but influential in how they shape opinion, gave Biden 20-point margins of victory among undecided voters surveyed....  More»

October 12, 2012, at 12:20 PM

Yesterday, I logged on to my Verizon Wireless account, directed myself to privacy settings, and instructed the company not to share my personal information with other companies. This is a power reserved only for new customers (Update: anyone can do this -- apologies to Verizon), and I felt satisfied that I had taken a small step to regain whatever ineffable sense of personal dignity the age of Big Data has taken away.

And then came the alerts: They were not accompanied by screeching, but they popped up on my iPhone like a priority message. One read: "EMERGENCY ALERT: Flash Flood Warning this area till 6:30 PDT Avoid Flood Areas Check local media...  More»

October 12, 2012, at 10:00 PM

In the month since Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi, I've given the White House the benefit of the doubt when it comes to explaining to the American people what really happened.

That's because raw intelligence is often conflicting, and even formal reports and cables avoid hard and fast conclusions. Intelligence scholar and former State Department analyst Jennifer Sims likes to say that the goal of the intelligence community is to add value to the policies set out by the president.  

At the same time, the intelligence community ought to speak truth to power — it did so, though not unanimously, before the Iraq war, when several groups of analysts found the Iraqi WMD evidence lacking. 

But here's my problem....  More»

October 15, 2012, at 11:47 AM

Each Monday until the election, I'm going to take a look at the current status of the electoral college map and assess the relative position of both candidates. What follows is an analysis based on interviews with campaign officials, on public polling and internal tracking, on early vote trends, and on the backs of other analysts I respect.

Remember, in 2008, Obama received 365 electoral votes and John McCain took 173. Redistricting has shaved the margin slightly, with the Republican nominee picking up a net of 6 EVs. So we'll begin with Obama at 359 EVs and Mitt Romney at 179 EVs....  More»

October 15, 2012, at 9:27 PM

HEMPSTEAD, NY — You've seen plenty of advice about what both candidates need to do in the second debate. What's more important are the pitfalls they need not skid into.

For Romney, there are three.

One is that he cannot be the Mitt Romney who does poorly at town hall meetings: starchy, uncomfortable, prone to weird asides and occasionally poor attempts at humor. Romney is a structure guy; the more structure a debate has, the better. The more questioners, with their body language and intonations, the more uncomfortable Romney will be. True, he's gotten better as he's campaigned, and he has done a lot of town hall meetings, and President Obama hasn't done a town hall meeting in awhile, but Romney is simply not in his element here.  

At the same time, he can't be the Romney who showed up and dominated debate number one....  More»

October 16, 2012, at 10:27 AM

For President Obama:

1. Why would a second term be better then a first?

2. How come you didn't help me fix my mortgage but bailed out the banks?

3. You promised that America's reputation in the world would be restored after what George Bush did to it. How come that hasn't happened?

4. ObamaCare is going to force me to lay off employees. What would you like me to tell them?

5. What's been your biggest mistake and how would you fix it in your second term?


For Gov. Romney:

1. How will cutting taxes for millionaires reduce the deficit? Specifically, how do you make up for $5 trillion you'd add to the debt?

2. How will you ensure that my partner gets the same federal benefits as those given to heterosexual married people? Why is it fair that they get preferential tax treatment and other protections and we can't, even though we've been together for two decades?...  More»

October 17, 2012, at 1:00 AM

It is a thing of wonder to watch a presidential debate live, but it puts me at a disadvantage: I don't have any way of knowing how the candidates performed, because that judgment is made with the help of the television. I didn't look at Twitter, so coming out of the debate, I had no idea how the two men looked and I didn't know what others, including my peers in the media, might have thought.

What I thought: Obama killed it. He outdebated Romney, he never once seemed churlish, he had a better command of the facts, and he conveyed the aura of a man who is confident about his choices....  More»

October 17, 2012, at 7:22 AM

Regardless of your ideology, if you think that the election of [the candidate you oppose] will result in an unfathomable level of stalemate beyond the cobwebbed level of stalemate we already have in Washington, you're probably wrong.

It's not because neither party will suddenly see the pure, cleansing light of bipartisanship and it certainly isn't because the parties will become characterologically less partisan. The reason why the sky isn't going to fall, why there probably is going to be a big budget and tax reform deal within six months, is that the incentives for a deal will suddenly become much, much greater at the beginning of the year.

This theory is not new, but Jonathan Chait, writing in New York magazine, has given it its broadest and most persuasive airing....  More»

October 19, 2012, at 1:15 AM

Surprise! It's October and Democrats are freaking out. The election, which seemed within their grasp just two weeks ago, now seems to be... well, like a real election, with two candidates.

Here's the truth: The latest battleground polls suggest that President Obama is maintaining the leads he held on to after Gov. Romney's post-debate bump. (It was a bump — his numbers went up and stayed there — not a bounce, where numbers go up and down.)

Iowa: (NBC News/Marist): Obama is up by 8

Wisconsin: (NBC News/Marist): Obama is up by 8

Colorado: (PPP): Obama up 3 (and at 50 percent)

Michigan: Two polls show Obama up

Pennsylvania: Latest poll shows Romney up by 4

Virginia: (PPP) Obama: 49 percent, Ronmey 49 percent

Florida (Zogby): Obama: 47 percent, Romney 44 percent 

It seems like lessons learned about time and consideration are quickly unlearned...  More»

October 22, 2012, at 3:12 PM

The debate about whether the Obama administration misled Americans about the Benghazi terrorist attack continues to make lazy circles in the sky. As you ponder the scraps of news about what the intelligence community knew and when the intelligence community knew it, it might be helpful to remember that the IC is not designed to produce information that the public 24/7 news cycle can consume. It is designed to produce information quickly — yes — but NOT the type of information the public necessarily wants or expects. The IC's processes work to add value to policy-makers so they can make better decisions. They do not work to give policy-makers accurate talking points, or even the latest raw information. And the more the IC is pressed to adapt its workflows to fit the public/political demands of the moment, the more their product...  More»

October 22, 2012, at 3:17 PM

On paper, President Obama still has more paths to 270 electoral votes. His firewall, which is more like a rez-de-chaussee of his political strategy, is holding: He leads (still solidly) in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa. From the standpoint of enthusiasm, the electorate is bleeding red. GOP fervor remains undiminished, and it has spread across the battleground states. 

Because (I think) voters process through information very quickly, late enthusiasm, which Romney has, galvanizes undecided voters, who want to be with the winner. I tend to think that truly undecided voters are a tiny slice of the electorate, and that most people who insist they're...  More»

October 22, 2012, at 4:05 PM

Why would President Barack Obama tie up Los Angeles traffic just to fit in a personal appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Wednesday? Angelenos don't usually host presidential candidates this late in the season. 

The answer is obvious: Demography.

Jay Leno's audience profile is very different from that of his competitors. And it's not just WHO watches Leno.... it's the way those WHOs look at the world. 

Leno's audience tends to be older (his average viewer is 58), whiter, and more concentrated (relative to his competitors) in less-urban TV markets. Leno is still number one in late night, but his show is not pulling in the profits it once did. His audience doesn't have a lot of extra cash to buy things. They tend to be interested in politics, so they're not low-information voters....  More»

October 22, 2012, at 10:55 PM

Here was Mitt Romney's debate strategy for the final face-off with Barack Obama: Don't let the path of least resistance be the enemy of the good.

On virtually every issue brought up by moderator Bob Schieffer, Romney didn't even try to show daylight between himself and the president, instead preferring a casual argument against the tenor of Obama's leadership.  

By not contesting Obama on points, and by agreeing with his policies on drone strikes, on Iraq, on China, on Iraq, and on Afghanistan, Romney was betting that he did not need to take risks, and stands a better shot at winning the election the more people associate him with the economy.  

Deciding to let Obama once again be the aggressor carries real risks, because of the large audience, and because the contrasts in tone between the two candidates could be large enough that some...  More»

October 23, 2012, at 3:29 PM

Beyond the national horse race and Nate Silver's excellent forecasts, here are some key numbers to watch over the next few weeks.

Obama's lead among registered voters: If this number, which tends to be around 4 to 5 percent now, holds, it means that his electorate has room to grow. But if that number holds too long, it means that these potential voters are going to sit out the election.

Obama's lead among Hispanics/Hispanic enthusiasm: Right now, Obama is on track to get 7 out of every 10 voters from those who identify as Hispanic. And enthusiasm among that group, while lower than others, is sufficient to give Obama the number of voters he needs in states like Colorado and Nevada.

Mitt Romney's share of working-class white votes in the Midwestern battlegrounds: The closer Mitt Romney is to 60 percent (or more) among working-class white men, and over...  More»

October 24, 2012, at 1:41 AM

The two presidential candidates have had very little to say about the sleek weapons of war known to the military as Unmanned Arial Vehicles and the public as "drones." Other than an oblique counter-intuitive hedge — Mitt Romney said that Obama can't "kill our way out of this mess in the Middle East" — the Republican supports the policy in general.  

For those who follow this issue, the narrative is familiar. For those who haven't, here is a short and very messy summary:

President Obama inherited and vastly expanded President Bush's use of armed UAVs to target terrorists....  More»

October 24, 2012, at 6:34 PM

No one hails the undecided voter. Or the late-deciding voter. Or the foolish voter. Or the swing voter. Instead, we throw ridicule their way, we know-it-alls, we denizens of the political class who knew from Day One for whom we were going to vote, and for whom the election is mainly a television show. 

We make much of political science data showing that late deciders tend to be "low information voters" who choose candidates based on personality characteristics and media narratives — emotional things — rather than rationally delving into policy papers and making the utilitarian decision. 

But many voters in these categories do know a lot about the candidates. They know more about some policies than, well, I do, and I study this stuff for a living....  More»

October 25, 2012, at 3:07 PM

In 13 days, when the results of the election are in, how will we account for the whirlwind of the past month?

Democrats are already playing Monday Morning Quarterback, even though their team is still the favorite to win. Yes, really.

One school of thought holds that everything was going great for Obama until the debate, when he appeared listless, and Romney appeared human. This theory puts all of the onus for the momentum swing in Romney's direction on Obama's debate performance.  

The more sensible way to look at how events transpired is to pull the lens back a bit. The Obama team was successful in creating a caricature of Mitt Romney as a heartless plutocrat. And then, at the debate, Romney came through as an entirely different person. An entire summer and spring's worth of ad spending vanished because reality didn't comport with the Obama...  More»

October 26, 2012, at 9:49 PM

I was having a conversation the other day with my friend Brigham Yen, proprietor of the blog DTLA Rising, and the unofficial ambassador to the renaissance that downtown Los Angeles is currently experiencing.  

Yen, who has no power to grant tax breaks, has an uncanny gift that's even more potent: He is relentless. He finds vacant properties and just charms people into buying them. I once met him for what I thought was a 30-minute walking tour; four hours later, he had almost convinced me to buy an apartment there. When you walk with him, barkeeps will welcome you in for free drinks; you'll get great seats at busy restaurants; bodega owners will walk out of theirs shops to shake his hand. Usually, this was because he had some role in persuading them to open up downtown....  More»

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