December 11, 2013, at 12:14 AM

Who judges the judges, watches the watchers, curates the curators? This is not just a question for today's content entrepreneurs and their publishers, who are always looking for the cheapest way to aggregate and profit off of usable content. There are so many different sources that sort the stuff we read now that you can't really participate in your community unless you use an app or website that functions as a streamliners of streamliners. Since we as internet users don't trust people who don't sound like we do, with the decades-long collapse of faith in political and mediating cultural institutions, the ease with which we simply fall into our reading...  More»

December 11, 2013, at 1:53 AM

The most compelling image of Nelson Mandela's memorial was a still photograph of two young people, a young white woman and a young black man, holding each other, and using the South African flag to shield themselves from the rain.

And I had hope. And I thought about sex.

On the question of how much work there is to do to eradicate racism, I tend to slag a bit more optimistically than Ta-Nehisi Coates, but not too much more. As a white guy, I sense some institutional racism. I know there is more because I know I am not capable of sensing it all. I tend not to ruminate on it, and so it surprises me how frequently I do come across it....  More»


Here's what the U.S. Secret Service doesn't do: the U.S. Secret Service does not drop the President off at events and say, "Hey, we'll see you later!"

If security plans were perfect, and none are, then the most iconic images associated with presidential protection -- agents surrounding the protectee as he shakes hands or gives a speech -- would not be so deeply ingrained in our consciousness.

It is precisely because there are always unknowns and unknowables that agents stay in very close proximity to the president at all times. The head of Obama's detail was steps away from the President as the sign language faker pantomimed his way to infamy.

Now, South Africa was primarily responsible for the event security plan. It was a loose plan; most of the crowd, apparently, did not go through magnetometers; exit and entry routes for VIPs seemed crowded and...  More»


2016 will be a weird election for the Democratic candidate, be the nominee Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, or a dude.

In 2000, Vice President Al Gore faced a dilemma. How could he claim credit for contributing to the successes of the Clinton administration without embracing the scandal-tarnished president himself? He was too close to the center of the presidential drama of 1998, too personally offended by Clinton's personal mistakes, that it's easy to forgive him, in retrospect, for not finding it easy to compartmentalize. (He still, you know, won the most votes, so this needle was threaded....  More»


The defense budget seems so bloated; the defense bureaucracy seems so overburdened. How can these two conditions exist simultaneously?

One reason is the way Congress oversees defense programs.

Because Congress cannot (practically) use its "power of the purse" to exercise programmatic scrutiny on a day to day basis, committees with jurisdiction must find a way to obtain information about programs, plans, policies, requirements, and developments. That way, they know what questions to ask, and they know whom to ask.

How? They ask the Secretary of Defense and other officials to provide reports to relevant committees. Sorry. Not asks. Requires. As in, program "A" will be funded at 70 percent of its authorized level unless the Secretary of Defense provides a report within 90 days of the enactment of this bill on subject "X....  More»


Judge Richard J. Leon has ruled that the NSA's bulk telephone records surveillance program is probably unconstitutional. Though the judge will allow the government to appeal before he shuts down the program, his ruling is a stinging and often caustic reproach to the government's claims about the nature of its surveillance and the legal basis on which it is conducted.

Leon has several arguments.

He notes that the government insists that only "identifiers" that meet the "Reasonable Articulable Suspicion" standards — specific telephone numbers that have been pre-cleared and pre-approved by NSA supervisors — can be checked against the database....  More»

December 18, 2013, at 6:42 AM

Ron Fournier is on fire. Liberated (my word) from the responsibilities of editing National Journal, the 20-year-veteran writer has become Washington's most trenchant, most compulsively readable political critic. Liberal or conservative, libertarian or other, you'd be wise to start reading him.

(To dispense with the compulsory narcissism: I used to work for Fournier at National Journal, and I consider him a mentor, so, yeah, I've got skin in the game. On the other hand, we've had, and still have, many arguments about politics.)

What distinguishes Fournier's work from most other practicing columnists' is his voice....  More»

December 18, 2013, at 4:17 PM

The presidentially appointed panel to assess the scope of intelligence and communications technologies wants to change the way the government stores and collects intelligence. Will they fly with the president? Between now and January, when Obama is expected to announce the reforms he endorses, he'll face plenty of pressure to dull the edges of the recommendations, particularly those that implicate the way the National Security Agency gathers foreign intelligence information. Based on a close reading, here's what's likely to draw the president's eye....  More»

December 19, 2013, at 5:37 PM

I don't think Hillary Clinton ever intended to be Barbara Walters' Most Fascinating Person of 2013. Indeed, this year was supposed to be slow and quiet. Clinton stepped down as secretary of state early in the year, took some time off, hit the lucrative lecture circuit, worked with the Clinton Foundation, and has generally kept her head down. Right about now, if the political calendar had any influence, Clinton would be deciding whether to run for president in 2016. Her friends, allies, and bundlers are organized and waiting. To build solid campaigns in Democratic primary states, Clinton needs as little lead time as any potential candidate in recent ...  More»

January 4, 2014, at 6:40 PM

Journalist Itay Hod has taken an ax to a politician's glass closet, and I think he misses the mark. Widely....  More»


Add this to the list of our country's technological backwardness:

The rest of the western world has figured out how to dramatically reduce identity theft and credit card fraud.

We, however, still use magnetic stripes. Stripes that can be so easily cloned and copied.

And even though the credit card industry is rigorous about prosecuting fraud, they haven't taken the single, fairly simple, if admittedly not cheap, step to solving the problem.

It's cheap enough, however, for 80 other countries to have upgraded. Instead of magnetic stripes, which contain a single code for all time, smart cards are like one-time only pads that spies used to use....  More»


“And I must tell you...when it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more — we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged."

Prescient remarks from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whose soon-to-be published memoir has landed with a predictable bang. There are two strings I want to pull. One: Why did Gates write the book for release during the administration?...  More»


In Double Down, the best-selling behind-the-scenes tome of the 2012 campaign, the authors delve into New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's interaction with the top of the Republican ticket. The portrait wasn't very flattering. Double Down's Christie was megalomaniacal, self-possessed, and obsessed with reciprocity: You do well by him, and he'll do well by you. You fundraise without his permission in New Jersey, and he'll cut the donors off. Loyalty trumped all. If Christie perceived you as disloyal, you were out of his inner circle. That's in passive voice because Christie would leave it to his lieutenants to enforce this code of honor....  More»

January 11, 2014, at 6:06 PM

Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister who died last night after an eight-year coma, is an historical enigma.

The most controversial figure in modern Zionism, the admired and brutal military commander, the uncompromising opponent of reconciliation with the Palestinians, he proved upon becoming the prime minister to be the one Israeli politician willing to make the type of concession that could have propelled the peace process forward after years of stagnation.

Sharon came to favor a unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza strip....  More»


Miley did it. Pistachio nuts are doing it. Lady Gaga does it every year.

Maybe it's time the National Security Agency thought about rebranding.

Blessed with the best scientists and technologists in the world, campuses in dozens of countries, data repositories that most companies couldn't dream of, and a reputation for cutting-edge innovation, the NSA's next director might want to do more with his organization's assets than mere intelligence gathering and Big Brothering.

If the NSA rebranded itself as a consumer products company, its customer solutions center might finally deserve its name. Since the NSA no longer has to keep its methods secret, why not put them to good use?

The idea came to me this weekend, when I relinquished my wallet and cell phone to thieves....  More»


Late last year, Apple hired Angela Ahrendts, the CEO of Burberry — that Burberry — to be its senior vice president of online and retail stores. The proximate reason: Apple's public facing displays had grown tired, perhaps easily emulated by Sony, Microsoft and, soon, Samsung. Tech writers who covered the announcement correctly focused on what Ahrendts did for the sturdy British fashion house's sales.

Less noticed, or observed, was the context of the Burberry turnaround itself. I think Ahrendts's hiring tells us something else about Apple's goals for the near future....  More»

January 14, 2014, at 8:11 PM

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates does not, in turns out, question President Obama's competence as president of the United States, even as he expressed doubts whether Obama fully believed, or ever believed in, the military's ability to do the jobs Obama assigned to it. That's the key takeaway from my own speed read of his large memoir, which was formally released today. Gates has softened his criticism of Obama in interviews after excepts leaked last week.

Gates has plenty to say about President Obama's foreign policy. Based on a speed read of Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary Of War, here are the highlights you might not have heard about if you've...  More»

January 16, 2014, at 2:24 AM

Broadcast news is a tough business for sensitive people. And for a long time, it was especially hostile to women. Just read Barbara Walters' memoir if you don't believe me.

Sexism still exists (see criticism of Katie Couric's ascension to the anchor chair at CBS), but when I worked at ABC and CBS News, I saw — and I still see when I look at the business today — strong women in positions of power. I also know that the corporations that underwrite the news divisions go to great lengths to punish harassers.

I know of some exceptions, but the exceptions are usually the source of much angst....  More»


I tend not to see every presidential policy speech as legacy-defining, but Friday's speech might just fit the bill. Obama has used his second term to review and claw back the advancing national security state that he endorsed and expanded when he took office. I've written this before, but he really does not want to be known as the president who enshrined indefinite detention of terrorism suspects into law, or who abused the state secrets privilege, or who allowed the surveillance state to run amok. Geoffrey Stone, a law school colleague of Obama's who also served on his intelligence review panel, told me a long time ago that Obama, in his core, viewed...  More»


North Korean documentaries are en vogue now.

A friend passed me a roughly ten minute YouTube clip of a film produced in North Korea, still (according to the Snowden documents) a very opaque and difficult country to understand. Ostensibly shown to children at school, the film clip was posted to YouTube in 2007 and has nearly a million hits.

Unlike others of the vintage, it doesn't seem to be fake. (My native Korean translator confirmed that the dialect was North Korean, so he did not recognize all the words. I had to translate the closed captions, which are in bastardized Italian, to English....  More»


Pity the historian who attempts to write about the way world leaders are bodyguarded. Every country, it seems, protects its dignitaries differently. How they protect them is as much a function of political culture as it is security.

Case in point: The contretemps over whether French President Francois Hollande's bodyguards failed to adequately protect him before, during, and after his sexual liaison with a French actress. Reportedly, only two security agents from the presidential bodyguard, the GSPR, accompanied him. They failed to check out the apartment's owners, who are (allegedly) connected to the Corsican mob....  More»


The Republican Party has over-learned the lessons of the outrageously damaging 2012 presidential nomination calendar, and today, it passed a raft of new rules designed to, as Zeke Miller writes, tighten control over the process.

It's about money, he writes. When Mitt Romney became the all-but-certain GOP nominee, his fundraising was tapped out, having been used to destroy the likes of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and by rules he could not use general election money until he was officially nominated in August. That allowed the Democrats to pound Romney for several months, to define him as a corporatist, out-of-touch meanie, without the Romney...  More»


In the past 48 hours, two potential Republican rivals of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found themselves with the chance to take a shot at the presumed Democratic front-runner in 2016.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) brought up President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky to show that the so-called "war on women" is a false Democratic attack.

And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called on Hillary Clinton to be candid about her mismanagement of the deadly violence in Benghazi, Libya.

Both attacks have superficial plausibility. But if they're the best that Republicans have, then Clinton is an even stronger presidential candidate than she appears to be....  More»


I'm tempted to say that the State of the Union address has become superfluous and ought to be retired and replaced, since it's become a presidential therapy session to reconnect with the interested public and a chance for the media to make fun of the person who has to give the rote response.

But even a White House as jaded about political rituals as this one recognizes that presidents don't have too many opportunities to go over the head of the opposition and the media and say something important to tens of millions of people at once.

President Obama has given many great speeches, generally in response to events or occasioned by his decision to speak...  More»

January 28, 2014, at 10:15 PM

Here are the 10 most important lines from the president's State of the Union address, followed by a brief explanation of why he delivered them.

1. "After five years of grit and determined effort, the U.S. is better positioned for the 21st century that any nation on earth."

All the muck of the past five years has led to job growth and an improving economy, and I'm determined to be optimistic even if the country is as pessimistic as ever, because I'm not going to follow the media's trapping narrative.

2. "For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government....  More»

January 29, 2014, at 10:27 AM

Of the 1.7 million pages of classified documents that Edward Snowden stole from the National Security Agency, a mere 1,057 have been published — .0062 percent, according to Cryptome's tally. That's just more than one twentieth of one percent of a cache that, by definition, could reasonably be expected to cause grave harm to national security if disclosed.

But interest in the saga and support for Snowden seems to be waning.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls finds that a plurality of Americans have no idea whether Snowden did the right thing in stealing and then leaking the documents....  More»


If you didn't know any better, Tuesday night's jaunty, optimistic State of the Union address might convince you that the President's approval ratings were well above 50 percent and that he had a supportive Congress waiting in the wings. On the other hand, Obama could just as well have had a burr in his saddle. In all likelihood, he's governing now with as good a supporting cast as he'll have in the next one thousand days.

Barring political earthquakes, the type of which haven't been seen in 12 years, Democrats aren't likely to regain control of the House, and they might lose several seats in the Senate....  More»


If conservative grassroots opposition to comprehensive immigration reform hasn't diminished, why would House Republicans make a good faith effort to pass it before this year's elections?

The valid political arguments against it haven't changed:

- There is no way to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows without de facto amnesty.

- Giving new Latino citizens the right to vote is a boon for the Democratic Party and will hasten the Republican Party's demographic collapse, with millions of new Democratic-leaning voters added to the rolls in critical Sun Belt and Southern states over the next ten years....  More»


Never have I ever watched a less informative, self-parodic nationally televised interview with the president of the United States.

So bad, in fact, that it makes me question whether Bill O'Reilly, famously Fox News' most erratically independent primetime voice, a very smart man and an incredibly talented broadcaster, has lost his ability to distinguish between what makes a question tough in the real world and what gets that distinction in Fox News' made-up world of indignant self-pity.

O'Reilly doesn't get along with Sean Hannity, but it seems like Hannity somehow took over his brain....  More»

February 16, 2014, at 7:46 PM

I write neither to bury the National Security Agency nor fetishize the national security state, but rather, to explain, to myself, what facts on the ground inspire the motivations and influence the judgment of people with extraordinary power. For this, for not automatically condescending to believe that a large federal surveillance regime is intrinsically incompatible with a functional representative democracy, I am dismissed by a bunch of others who write about this subject as an apologist.

It's a word meant to wound. An apologist cuts himself off from the direction of history....  More»

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