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September 10, 2012, at 6:00 AM

I've long admired The Week as a place for thoughtful, comprehensive analysis that never insults the reader's intelligence and always looks ahead. Today, I'm honored to join as editor-at-large, and to start a blog called The Compass. 

I haven't blogged regularly for awhile, and I don't quite know how my own style has evolved. I'll definitely write about the presidential campaigns, trends in politics, national security, and foreign policy, as well as science, technology, and culture.

The mix is to be determined, largely by my own interests and by what happens in the world. I may try to experiment with the medium a bit: I'll pose a question on my Twitter account (@marcambinder) and will incorporate some of your responses in my subsequent post.

A few things to know: I am not going to blog about everything....  More»

 
September 10, 2012, at 6:10 AM

The election in November may well turn on decisions made long ago. After Labor Day, there is little campaigns can do to alter the fundamental physics of a race. The best campaigns simply play defense well. In a close race, whichever candidate is most adroit at handling the unexpected will probably find himself with an advantage.

Nonetheless, pay attention to how Barack Obama and Mitt Romney handle these three broad subjects: economic anxiety, foreign policy, and Romney's definition. 

The adjectives used to describe the economy post-convention are "anemic" and "persistent" — as in, persistent, anemic job growth....  More»

 
September 10, 2012, at 6:20 AM

When is a gaffe not a gaffe? These days, almost every political miscue is labeled a gaffe. By overusing the word, I think we're devaluing it, and I think we're being unfair to politicians. 

Item: Paul Ryan claims to have run a marathon in less than three hours. The Democrats just loved this one. To anyone who has ever seen a marathon, much less run in one, the boast (made to a radio talk show host who asked him about his best time) was just incredible. That is, it was so ridiculous that it couldn't be true. So why, as Salon's Joan Walsh asked shortly after, would Ryan say something so obviously implausible?...  More»

 
September 11, 2012, at 6:15 AM

No Easy Day, a Navy SEAL's first-person account of Operation Neptune's Spear, will not, in and of itself, bring harm to the men who compose the National Missions Force of the United States. Having read the book several times and reviewed certain passages with cleared-in military officials, both retired and active-duty, including one person who is given a pseudonym by Matt Bissonnette, it seems clear that the bad guys won't get much out of the book. As one former SEAL remarked to me, "If you want to know about our T[actics] T[echniques] [and] P[roducers], I can give you a dozen video games that [the military] helped out with, and, yeah there was that...  More»

 
September 11, 2012, at 5:01 PM

Until the last three weeks before the election, you can safely skip the top-line numbers for every poll you read. That's why I'm less impressed by the president's post-convention "bounce," a term that implies that whatever is up shall come down. Generally, what's more striking is that the president's enthusiasm deficit among self-described independents who tend to vote Democratic has been erased. Those voters are moving (back) into his corner, and they're providing his buoyancy.

In a CNN/ORC poll taken once the convention was fully over, Democrats registered a nine-point gain, the percentage who said they were very enthusiastic about voting. The same poll shows marginal gains among men, most of it coming as a boost in support among young voters, very much a part of Obama's base....  More»

 
September 11, 2012, at 10:45 PM

(This post has been changed to reflect developments overnight.)

The American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three diplomatic security officials were murdered yesterday for being associated with a country that allows stupid people to say stupid things. They were killed as they tried to evacuate staff members from the U.S. embassy compound in Benghazi.

Protesters in Cairo and the Libyan city used the pretext of a web video released by Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who wanted to burn the Koran, to storm U.S. embassies in both cities. U.S. flags were torn, then burned; the general level of violence rose, and thugs managed to enter parts of the embassies later in the day. 

Free speech is messy. Terry Jones is monumentally stupid and even more reckless....  More»

 
September 13, 2012, at 5:32 PM

The sudden swing of American attention to North Africa has clarified the way Mitt Romney sees his country's place in the world. Setting aside the merits of his campaign's timing, because you can say just about anything if the timing is right, it is worth taking a brief tour through the Museum of Provocative Weakness. That phrase is a favorite of Ambassador John Bolton, who said on August 28 that Romney "doesn't believe strength is provocative, he believes that American weakness is provocative." It has been used many times by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. After the decision had been made to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld told ABC News that it didn't really matter if a war enrages Arab populations in the Middle East. "All I can say is if history has taught anything, it's that weakness is provocative....  More»

 
September 14, 2012, at 2:10 PM

Didja buy your iPhone 5 yet?

Whenever Apple launches a new product, people who are not obsessive Apple geeks usually react in one of three ways. First there are folks (like me) who are interested to find out what Apple has done. I respect their culture of secrecy, although it seems to have failed them this time around, as there were no surprises when the iPhone 5 was announced.  

Second, there are people who don't follow technology, use it as little as possible, and genuinely don't care. The third category will be people who aggressively, loudly, and conspicuously don't care....  More»

 
September 16, 2012, at 10:03 PM

Is Mitt Romney's campaign really in crisis? Or is it operating just as a campaign in the throes of a quest to seat the leader of the free world should? I tend to believe the latter just because campaigns are incredibly intense and complex. Politico, however, says the opposite is true. It has published a well-reported and full-of-good-gossip magazine-length article on the campaign just in time for the Monday news cycle. The log line of the article is that consultants have hijacked the campaign, and that that reflects poorly on the candidate. Its prime example is an exquisitely detailed chronology of how Romney botched his convention speech....  More»

 
September 17, 2012, at 6:17 PM

Romney actually said that. He might even believe it. Sometimes you want to go out of your way to wait before reacting to something. Thinking slowly never hurt anyone, at least not in print. But sometimes, your gut instinct is right.  

Mother Jones' David Corn obtained this video, and no one (as of yet) is disputing its authenticity. Here is what Romney says:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that...  More»

 

Here's another apparent puzzler poll, this one coming from The Washington Post. In Virginia, a state that President Obama and Mitt Romney are showering with money and resources, voters split 50/50 on the question of who would a better job on economic policy. And yet, Obama has a significant high single-digit lead among likely voters. He leads 52 percent to 44 percent. As in other states, Virginians rank the economy as their most important voting issue.  

I see this dynamic nationally and in a lot of the swing states. What it means is that voters have already conducted their referendum on the Obama economy, and made their conclusions about whether to vote for the president based on his economic performance. If they are persuadable, they are persuadable on other issues, issues that Romney isn't going to find much traction with....  More»

 
September 18, 2012, at 7:31 PM

The National Football League needs to concede to the demands of its professional referees now — before someone gets hurt and before the soul of the game is compromised. And the NFL's silent partners — the big TV networks, like ESPN, NBC and CBS — need to pressure them to give in. 

Players are beginning to game the relative incompetence of the replacement refs. They are taking more risks. They seem to have lost confidence in a group of men (and one woman) who had very little credibility with them to begin with. Fans can accept the idea and even the reality of replacement refs until games are blown and players start getting...  More»

 

Short track speedskating is one of the highlights of the Winter Olympic games, a thrilling and graceful series of precision ice races around an oval. It has produced an incredibly talented global super-star in the form of Apolo Anton Ohno.  

But now, a grimy underbelly is coming to light.

For months, 19 short-track skaters on the U.S. national team have quietly boycotted the U.S. Speedskating association, which has near complete control over the athletes' lives. U.S. Speedskating decides who participates in major national and international competitions, doles out stipends to athletes, and hires coaches and support staff. The boycotting skaters have now formed a splinter group and are asking for donations via the internet. 

The athletes' boycott has been, until now, their only recourse to the conduct of an organization that, many skaters ...  More»

 
September 20, 2012, at 2:14 PM

I first began to write this post on September 12, the day when Mitt Romney was supposed to don the fall collection of campaign clothing and start new and fresh. And then Libya happened, and then the leaked videotape happened, and then came a crunch of state polls showing that almost all routes to electoral victory were blocked by a president with leads outside the margin of error. Gallup's tracking has provided the only comfort data for Boston, so perhaps that's a place to start. But when your pollster has to tell the press not to believe the polls, you know you're looking at an uphill climb to the presidency....  More»

 
September 21, 2012, at 8:55 PM

For Angelenos, it was a sight like no other.  To me, it was a very comforting sight. For several hours this morning, the whole of California was entranced by the wonders of science. In Los Angeles, news stations treated the Space Shuttle Endeavor's fly-by goodbye as if it were sacred, blowing out their schedule for hours of live coverage.

As the shuttle, piggybacked aboard and trailed by F-16s and a photo plane, entered Northern California airspace, drivers on the highway here got out of their car and gawked. The California Highway Patrol didn't mind: They shut down the major highways to allow for an unfettered appreciation of something sublime. From Disney to Universal to Downtown LA to the office towers of El Segundo to the beaches of Malibu, the city stopped....  More»

 
September 24, 2012, at 5:19 PM

This is an assignment memorandum for the producers of election night coverage. I feel I am modestly qualified to make these assignments because of my past experience covering politics at the network level, and because this year, I  might well be — for the first time — a viewer.

The great gadgets and graphics and gimmicks are fun to watch.  

But there are a couple of dynamic data points that everyone who has followed the race closely and those who are just tuning it for the drama will want to know.

The three Big Stories of the night are obvious: Will Obama get re-elected?...  More»

 
September 24, 2012, at 5:45 PM

I've never been to Benghazi, nor have I stepped foot in a safe house (official or not), so perhaps I'm unqualified to make an observation about the prevailing opinion that the U.S. government could have done a LOT more to safeguard its personnel in Libya.  

On the one hand, of course — yes, always — you can put more bodies on the ground. You can add contract security personnel. You can increase the American footprint, both the parts you can see and the parts you can't. Yes, OPSEC and CI — that's operational security and counter-intelligence — can always be enhanced.

But here is what I can't get my mind around. The CIA is deploying virtually every one of its officers with field experience. Its Global Response staff, sort of a pool of unaligned case officers, doesn't have anyone to spare....  More»

 
September 25, 2012, at 12:21 PM

As the fallout from last night's Inaccurate Reception — a "Fail Mary?" — drifts across the country, keep in the mind some of the deeper equities at stake in the labor dispute between referees and the National Football League.

1.Gambling
Perhaps as much as $250 million was illegitimately lost because of the referee's decision last night. Seattle won a game they were projected to lose, and before the "shared catch," Green Bay was ahead by more than the "spread" that odds makers had placed between the two teams. The NFL won't admit this, but the integrity of the game is as important to the legal gaming industry and the tens of thousands of jobs ...  More»

 
September 26, 2012, at 6:33 PM

Affirmative action's days are numbered.

2003 was the last time the U.S. Supreme Court took up affirmative action, and a narrow majority in Grutter v. Bollinger held that public institutions could use race as a factor in deciding whether to admit students. Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the Court, looked to a future, 25 years hence, where affirmative action would no longer be needed. The decision changed the compelling state rational for the practice, reasoning that affirmative action to remedy historical injustice was no longer acceptable, while the "tailored" use of affirmative action to achieve a many-hued student body was good in and of itself.  In other words, diversity was a thing that the government had a right to use affirmative action to achieve because a diverse student body was an accepted institutional goal....  More»

 
September 27, 2012, at 1:16 AM

Apparently, there are 106,875 people named Marc who regularly show up to vote.

I know this because the Obama campaign, in an email to me last night, told me so. They're bragging!

How, you might ask, does the Obama campaign know this? The voter rolls they get are clean and updated regularly, but it turns out that they know a lot more about things.

They know if you're registered to vote or not. They know, because of the magazines you subscribe to, what you like to do in your spare time. They know, because of their Facebook friends, the types of people you associate with....  More»

 
September 27, 2012, at 2:45 PM

It's the best of times for gays on television. But not every supportive show carries the same cultural significance.

ABC's Modern Family, is, of course, about a modern family. As in, "hey, these couples aren't like families you're used to! They're modern!  They're the new normal." Ostensibly, the show has two "modern" couples — Cam and Mitchell, and Sophia and Jay, though May-December romances are as pre-modern as high school crushes. All three families in the show hold their own now, which is a testament to the producers, writers, and actors, but the show's title all but announces the conceit....  More»

 
September 28, 2012, at 6:32 PM

For the use of force, does the United States really have no firm threshold above which or beyond which Iran cannot cross?  

You might think that if you listen to U.S. diplomats try and describe the differences between how the U.S. and Israel view the threat from the regime. Basically, in public, the U.S. says that the red line is the end point: Iran cannot become a nuclear state.

During his United Nations presentation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that Israel's line starts flashing red when the Iranian nuclear energy program begins to produce uranium-235 isotopes at a rate of 90 percent. Efforts by the U.S. and Israel to sabotage the centrifuges used to separate the isotopes delayed Iran's progress. For a peaceful nuclear energy program, a concentration of between 20 percent and 80 percent of U-235 isotopes is generally...  More»

 
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»

 
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