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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»

 
February 16, 2014, at 8:53 PM

I've been away for some (successful) surgery, and perhaps the painkiller withdrawal, associated with mood swings, has got me thinking very carefully about what folks who are fascinated by the National Security Agency surveillance debate are really thinking about.

Like, what's going on in their guts.

As much as I don't want to write about Edward Snowden, I have come to believe that, through all of the fog and the Twitter rants and the tribalism and boosterism and heroism, the debate we are having, or where we stand in this debate, revolves around the central question of whether America is indispensable and somehow different, and whether Americans deserve...  More»

 

The troubles of this year's U.S. speed skating Olympic team "defy explanation," frets the Christian Science Monitor.

For the first time since many of the current members were born, it looks as if the U.S. won't win a single medal in the sport. In Vancouver, at the 2010 Winter Olympics, the men's team medaled in just about every race; Apolo Ohno dominated the short track heats; Shani Davis won his second consecutive gold for 1,000 meters; and the U.S. showed in all the relay events. The teams took home six medals. Not this year.

Are there intelligible reasons why the U....  More»

 
February 18, 2014, at 7:25 PM

The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. The grief of mourning?

Having watched NBC Olympics reporter Christin Cooper's interview with Bode Miller as it happened, I'll confess to two thoughts:

1. What a neat and sad spontaneous television moment.

2. Cooper handled the sensitive issue as sensitively as one should expect of someone whose job it is to elicit emotional responses from athletes. I mean that as a compliment.

Why the uproar?

For one thing, we have mixed feelings when we see strong people reduced to tears. Reduced to tears. Because tears, somehow, do not accord with the way we expect our athletes to emote....  More»

 
February 19, 2014, at 3:50 PM

One reason I worry less about the National Security Agency's surveillance practices is because, on the scale of actual harm, they weigh quite low compared to the routine harms and violations committed almost willfully by other U.S. government agencies.

In January of 2005, Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian-born Stanford graduate student in architecture, checked in at the United Airlines ticket counter at San Francisco International Airport for a five-hour flight from San Francisco to Hawaii. Ibrahim was still recuperating from surgery, so she asked for wheelchair assistance to her gate....  More»

 

Why are some kids getting fatter, more slowly?

That, in essence, is the question raised by the latest tranche of statistics on obesity. The headline: The rate of increase in childhood obesity slowed by 43 percent over the past decade in the U.S., with declines all across the aboard, although less so among poorer, at-risk families. Researchers at the CDC found that just 8 percent of 2- to 5-year olds surveyed met the clinical definition for obesity, compared to an average of 14 percent in previous studies.

Overall, the number of adults and children who qualified as obese in the study was about the same....  More»

 
February 28, 2014, at 12:53 AM

You've read about a cheating scandal involving one fifth of the missile launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. That brings to mind an image of someone copying answers on a particularly difficult test. Our gut reaction: Nuclear missile crews cheating! That's a huge blow to their integrity. Fire them! Get rid of the commanders! Clean house! And coming on top a drug scandal...

Simmer down a second.

The practice is and has been so widespread that to call it cheating actually misrepresents what's been going on. Every month, officers are tested on multiple subjects and they have to score very highly to retain their rating, as it were....  More»

 
March 1, 2014, at 7:12 PM

There's a fallacy afoot in the efforts to blame President Obama for the crisis in Ukraine. It goes like this: Because American's hand on the global tiller is unsteady and President Obama failed to enforce his "red line" in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin feels empowered to threaten and perhaps make war with Ukraine because he does not fear repercussions. Moreover, by letting Russia invent the solution to Syria's transgression, Putin has earned some political capital that he feels he can spend. There's a veneer of plausibility on these allegations....  More»

 
March 3, 2014, at 4:00 PM

As Russian troops tighten their control of the Crimean Peninsula, Russian President Vladimir Putin's diplomatic and military maneuvering face several constraints that might not be obvious to most Americans watching or reading the news. The Obama administration has these limits in mind as it decides how to respond.

1. Russian public opinion. When it comes to protecting ethnic Russians in Crimea, ordinary Russians are ready to endorse almost any measure short of full-scale warfare. Here, post-Soviet Russian chauvinism chases away other considerations, like Russia's standing in the world....  More»

 
March 3, 2014, at 4:05 PM

Early in the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy mused to his brother and other members of the Ex-Comm that the presence of American Jupiter missiles in Turkey, and the subsequent shift in the balance of world power that created, had probably triggered the rapid Soviet up-arming 90 miles to the South of Miami....  More»

 
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