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September 19, 2014, at 9:15 AM

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf says I give President Obama too much leeway to wage war without having to explain why. That's not exactly my position.

For the record, I think the president should ask Congress for its approval on his ISIS campaign. I also think the 2002 Authorization For the Use of Military Force against al Qaeda and associates should be declared null and void. These are not political judgments; they are judgments based on my evaluation of what seem to be the most persuasive arguments. And I am open to revising them.

I also think that the president's constitutional authority is broad enough to cover a campaign like this without going...  More»

 

When we iPhone users download the latest iOS software update, the first thing many of us do is scour geek websites for lists of hidden, cool features. And sure enough, there are dozens of such lists already, because iOS8 is packed with helpful goodies. I've read nearly all of these lists, and below I've distilled what I think are the most useful hidden features — the stuff that gets lost behind the glamor of, say, enhancements to the camera app, widgets, intuitive keyboards, Continuity, and third-party app-sharing.

1. Automatic notifications for important emails....  More»

 

Finally, an honest answer from the U.S. government about the likelihood of Americans ever fighting on the ground in Iraq against ISIS:

We're going to defeat ISIS. That's what we're going to do. We're going to do it together. We're going to bring in coalition forces. We don't think it's going to need big units, like the 101st Airborne Division, the 1st MEF, we don't believe that, but it may require our special capabilities, soldiers, and intelligence officials, going downrange, if you will, to make sure that we are effective in what we're going to do.

Kudos to the presidential speechwriter for injecting some clarity and perspective....  More»

 

Under what authority is President Obama going to war against ISIS, the omnivorous octopus that has ruthlessly gobbled up territory in the Middle East? His advisers cite the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against al Qaeda. That's somewhat confusing, because al Qaeda has become an ISIS antagonist.

Indeed, there is quite a bit about the fight against ISIS that remains opaque. What is it "we" are doing, exactly? Does it compare to what we've already done in Iraq and in Afghanistan? If the threat is not imminent, why would we want to do anything?...  More»

 

President Obama will make the case tonight for his decision to unleash the U.S. military on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the al Qaeda off-shoot that has torn through territory in the Mideast and proclaimed itself the stewards of a new caliphate.

Obama has used the bully pulpit to explain his choices before, but this speech belongs in a category that includes three other major foreign policy issues — his 2009 explanation for a temporary troop surge in Afghanistan, his 2011 decision to assist NATO in ousting Moammar Gadhafi, and his decision last year not to seek congressional permission to bomb Syria (and his subsequent decision...  More»

 

Shares of Apple's stock bounced up three percent when Tim Cook unveiled the latest evolution of the iPhone on Tuesday, and then felt gravity when, later in the presentation, he introduced the Apple Watch to the world. The verdict of the market? Hard to say. I was watching the stock price of one of the iPhones' carriers. T-Mobile's shares dropped about 1.66 percent today, to 30.28.

I'd had a sense that T-Mobile is the company best positioned to take quick advantage of consumer stuff-lust to get the latest iPhone (and with it, in January, the Apple Watch....  More»

 

Forget summer. The best books for political junkies usually arrive with the turning of the leaves. Here are three of the juiciest and most interesting titles that soon will be available for your purchase.

Next week, the peripatetic Lawrence Wright will publish Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David, a sure-to-be riveting, moment-by-moment history of a time when peace was both the means to an end and an end in itself, and when political leaders could be brave and forgo politics, grudges, religious attachments, and even the strong lure of national myth-making....  More»

 

"There are no boots on the ground."

I don't care for the phrase. Never did. Wearing boots is what combat forces do in certain circumstances. Using it as synecdoche for "troops in harm's way" warps the scope of what the U.S. military does. It may also give the Pentagon an easy out, because certain forces wear sneakers, not boots.

A very brave Ford Sypher, writing for The Daily Beast, saw suspiciously Western-looking commandos race by him in their heavy trucks, and was given word by his Kurdish escorts that these were indeed foreigners:

Contacts in the Kurdish intelligence service and Peshmerga leadership confirmed what we saw....  More»

 

How does a biologist, or a computational neuroscientist, possibly have the wherewithal to stay current on all aspects of his field?

Nature, one of the world's top journals for peer-reviewed scientific breakthroughs, does what it can to encourage cross-discipline knowledge sharing by publishing non-technical essays from the leading lights in particular fields. For a lay person, this is often the best way to become current, very quickly, on very difficult subjects.

This week's topic, when boiled down to its essence, is: how small, how fast, how powerful can computers possibly get?...  More»

 

Among the more fascinating facts discovered in Brookings analyst Neil Ruiz's research on the geography of foreign students in the U.S. is where they decide to stay after they get their degree.

A plurality stay in New York City — or move there.

New York, it turns out, is very sticky. Foreign students are more likely to stay in New York City after graduation than anywhere else in the country. We all love New York, and it's the biggest city in the country, but there's no reason why it should be so magnetic, unless the city (and New York state) do things to make it attractive for foreign students to stay there after they study....  More»

 

Unless you're one of those ornery folks who believe that only politically engaged Americans should vote, there aren't many good reasons to oppose efforts to expand access to the ballot. Voter fraud is quite rare, and voting fraud — an organized effort to illegally disrupt elections — is hard to organize. So you might think that any restriction on the way someone can vote will unfairly marginalize potentially legitimate voters.

That's true, with one big exception: internet voting.

No doubt — nationwide internet voting has an intuitive appeal....  More»

 

The world is en fuego, with American interests at peril and President Obama's foreign policy failing to stem the chaos. The mood may be as brittle as it was in 2002, the first elections after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, but even though the country is definitely paying more attention to the world's problems as the economy improves at home, the midterm elections in America are just not being fought over foreign policy. This is unusual, but it isn't surprising: Neither party has a clue on foreign policy.

Democrats are divided about Obama's response to the Syrian civil war, the sudden metastasizing of ISIS in Iraq, and the civil war in...  More»

 

President Obama is expected to announce by mid-September whether he will circumvent a recalcitrant Congress and press ahead with immigration reform on his own terms. "Executive action," as it's come to be known, could be as robust and consequential as providing de-facto earned amnesty for millions of undocumented immigrants now living in the shadows. That decision would reverberate widely. Democrats have usually been afraid that if Obama decided to showcase the apogee of presidential power, the counter-reaction among conservatives and revanchists would cost Democrats an intolerably high political price....  More»

 

The St. Louis County Police Department released video last night that shows two of its officers opening fire and killing a knife-wielding man who had just held up a nearby liquor store.

Here's the video. Warning: it is quite disturbing, although there are no close-ups of the dying man.

When I posted the video on Twitter yesterday, rather predictably, the reaction broke into two camps.

Camp One notes simply that the officers fired at a man who was walking towards them with a knife after they had warned him. It was a graphic but justified application of lethal force by police officers trying to protect themselves....  More»

 

I've been jacked up by law-enforcement officers three times in my career as a reporter.

The first time was in 2000, when, as an intern for ABC News, I inadvertently walked from the safety of the Democratic National Convention into a protest zone outside the Staples Center and was grazed by a rubber bullet fired by an LAPD officer. Later that night, after we went off the air, another officer shoved me onto the sidewalk. The second time came about three years later. I took a photograph of the motorcade of the secretary of state and was physically accosted by two Diplomatic Security special agents who had seen me....  More»

 

America will never become a libertarian utopia. But anti-statism is definitely in.

There will be plenty of differences between the eventual Democratic and Republican presidential nominees in 2016, and anyone who reads The Week can probably come up with a long list of them on demand. But even before the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, expressing rage at an apparent manslaughter by a police officer, exposing the human costs of police militarization, a certain set of bubble issues had made its way into the middle of our politics.

These issues are not conservative or liberal....  More»

 
August 14, 2014, at 4:18 PM

The president carries himself weakly. His words don't pressure anyone. American foreign policy is impotent. Nouri al-Maliki, endorsed by the previous administration to run Iraq, would never resign. In fact, he'll dig in his heels precisely because Obama wanted him to go. He'll hold on to his power illegally.

Don't Do Stupid Stuff may be a shrunken encapsulation of President Obama's fundamental caution about the knee-jerk exercise of American military power, but it does not mean he shies away from risk. Intervening in Iraq is risky. Openly calling for Maliki to step down and then using what little actual leverage the United States has to assist (nonmilitary)...  More»

 

Vladimir Pozner, whom you might remember as a perspicuous commentator on the Soviet Union during the Sochi Olympics, was famous in America in the 1980s for being an articulate defender of the U.S.S.R. He was able to argue his points in the American style of competitive political debate, which is to say: he knew how to talk in sound bites that resonated.

Posner is very smart, and he used one technique over and over, particularly when confronted with a particular horror that the Soviet Union was accused of. He would invariably respond that Americans have no moral authority to judge the Soviet Union because, well, whatever the misdeed in question,...  More»

 
August 7, 2014, at 9:25 AM

'Tis the week to pick on the Central Intelligence Agency.

And I actually don't want to pick on them. They've done a lot of bad stuff, and they've done a lot of good stuff, and the people who work there, by and large, are as good as you might think you are.

CIA historians? Usually, quite awesome. But the lawyers who try to protect the CIA's historical equities? Bad people. Bad, bad people.

Nate Jones, the senior FOIA researcher at the National Security Archive, has been trying to pry loose a declassified copy of the CIA's internal history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion....  More»

 

In a calmer world, Ronald Kessler's second book about the U.S. Secret Service might have made more waves. In The First Family Detail, there are salacious details about Bill Clinton's alleged mistress (although Kessler stops short of actually accusing him of having sex with another woman), the cringe-worthy mental image of Joe Biden swimming naked, and a bunch of gossip about current and former protectees.

If Kessler truly had penetrated deep inside an enigmatic agency that is struggling with some scandals and demographic change, then I would wholly recommend the book to you....  More»

 

What could possibly be more invasive, more offensive, than the secret indiscriminate bulk collection of data by the National Security Agency?

Quite a number of things, actually.

Let's put aside, for now, the CIA's complicity in torture, which, to my mind, is the worst scandal of the Bush years. Then, as you read about the following two stories, compare them to the NSA's surveillance, and weigh the potential and actual harm to real people that the practices exposed herein would cause.

1. The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill, relying on classified documents, has exposed for all to see the ungainly expansion of terrorist watch lists after September 11, 2001, ...  More»

 

Ben Gurion International Airport is adjacent to a war zone, and so, when a rocket fired by Hamas or its proxies landed in its vicinity on Tuesday, U.S. carriers decided to stop flying there. That's obviously smart and prudent.

Since the mid-1970s, almost a dozen commercial jets have been shot down by missiles. As shoulder-fired missile launchers proliferated, it become easier to envision a scenario in which jets taking off and landing could become prime targets for terrorists. Thriller fiction has beaten that scenario to death since the 1980s.

Counter-measure technology, like heat flares and laser diversion, hasn't been available for jets these large...  More»

 

It's impossible to observe the world react to the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine without thinking of the day the Russians shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 over the Sahakin Islands on Sept., 1, 1983. Then, as now, the area was saturated with intelligence sensors, and the two superpowers had a very good idea about what exactly had happened within hours. But the battle to gain geopolitical leverage from the tragedy poisoned the public's understanding.

But thanks to the signals intelligence collected by the actual RC-135 surveillance plane that the Russian fighter pilot thought he was aiming at the United States knew almost...  More»

 

Imagine a quiet, unassuming, rather short man who:

-- was already considered a legendary standup in the 1960s;

-- was responsible for getting the Smothers Brothers kicked off the air at CBS;

-- made Richard Nixon's enemies list, becoming the only comedian to do so ("In America, anyone can become President. I think we bend over backwards to prove it.");

-- logged more Tonight Show appearances than any other entertainer, save for Bob Hope;

-- hosted the Tonight Show when he was 26;

-- had a mobster for a best friend;

-- directed hundreds of television commercials;

-- whose imprint on TV comedies ranging from Bob Newhart's shows to Mad About You to Seinfeld...  More»

 
July 16, 2014, at 9:49 AM

Incheon, the big industrial port near Seoul, in South Korea, is going bankrupt.

But you wouldn't know it from the press and hype.

Construction cranes are everywhere. BMW just built a high-tech test-drive center there, at a cost of $75 million. The Asian Games kicks off there later this year. More than 10 new stadiums have been erected in the city since it was awarded the games, the crown jewel being a brand new 20,000-person soccer field.

The city and national government are paying a lot to spruce up the city before the games. The city, epicenter of March's Sewol ferry disaster, needs a morale boost....  More»

 

Here in car-favoring Los Angeles, it's hard to find a mass transit project that was easily birthed. Convincing taxpayers who rely on cars to fund projects they won't use — projects for people who don't have cars and can't afford them — is not easy.

And this being California, environmental regulations, enforced by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), are fairly rigorous. Working through the reviews has kept the employment rate high for civil engineers and lawyers. Before construction can begin, the state must certify that the project does not significantly and negatively impact more than a dozen separate quality of life measures....  More»

 
July 14, 2014, at 10:35 AM

In a long post this weekend at The Washington Post, Barton Gellman added some protein to his big story on the NSA. He also directly addressed my and others' criticism, writing:...  More»

 

Over the past several days, The Washington Post and The Intercept have published two major stories about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. Both were months in the making. Both have been touted as the last of the major scoops that Edward Snowden's archive offered up. I wrote here about the Post story.

The Intercept's article is the more explosive of the two, by far. If you've read it, you know now that the NSA spied on at least five American citizens who had no discernable ties to terrorism, and only incidental or professional and functional ties to foreign powers or entities....  More»

 

During crises, American politics are sometimes capable of showing us their best. In the case of the near complete implosion of the housing market and collapse of financial institutions, Washington figured out a way to intervene, directly, and set the nation on a long road to recovery. Imperfect and incomplete as it was, the crucible of this crisis seemed to clarify minds, clearing out parochial concerns.

The humanitarian crisis on our southern border, where a wave of thousands of Latino children are pouring into America's Southwest, will not be one of those times....  More»

 

UMBRA.

In the annals of intelligence, no word is more associated with secret government intelligence reports, especially those produced for policy-makers based on raw intelligence. UFO reports in the 1950s. The most brittle reporting on Soviet leadership intentions. Intercepted phone calls between Chinese and Pakistani nuclear officials.

Way back when — at least since middle of the 1950s — the intelligence community used the UMBRA code word to inform the reader of a certain report that the original source for the intelligence was of the most sensitive category....  More»

 
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