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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»

 
March 4, 2014, at 6:20 PM

The old Soviet Union had a variety of mainstays when they were confronted by the West. Putin's rambling press conference confirmed their salience today:

Tactic 1: Tu Quoque. You, too. That is, create moral equivalencies between Soviet actions and American actions to try and remove moral suasion as a source of pressure.

"And this isn't the first time our Western partners have meddled. I sometimes have the the feeling that over there across the pond, somewhere in America, they're like workers in a laboratory, conducting experiments on rats without any understand of what they're doing....  More»

 

I don't know whether Vladimir Putin thinks of President Obama as weak, and whether that will encourage Putin to act in ways he otherwise would not have acted.

Obama's defenders (and I am often a defender) discount, somewhat magically, the influence of past events that reflect poorly on this administration while playing up those that implicate other culprits. In Syria, Bashir al-Assad violated an international norm, one that requires serious punishment, and instead, had his toys taken away. Reducing Syria's chemical weapons stockpile is an unalloyed good, but leaving him unpunished is probably a mistake....  More»

 
March 5, 2014, at 10:49 PM

When it comes to nation-states, you'd think that the smaller an event is, the more likely the U.S. intelligence community will miss it. If something big is going to happen, lots of moving parts are going to change from a state of rest to a state of action. There will be chatter. There will be activity. The big intelligence dragnet will surely pick up something and send a pulse up the food chain.

But historically, the opposite has been true: Huge events, events that should have been predictable (we think), seem to take us by surprise, over and over....  More»

 

I, for one, welcome our new Russian propagandists. RT.com is probably more popular now than ever before, since popularity correlates with interest, be it benign or unsavory. Now would be a great time for RT executives to capitalize (sorry) on the attention and expand their menu of exciting programs.

Here are a few pitches.

Anchors AWOL
Each day, an ambitious RT.com anchor throws the news division under the bus. The tag line: a "self-serving" of courage.

Cossacks and Colmes
Defending America, liberal radio host Alan Colmes is paired with a uniformed Cossack militiaman, who duly beats him when he crosses an ever-shifting line....  More»

 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein knew exactly what she was doing when she took to the well of the Senate and lobbed firebombs up the Potomac River, to the campus of the Central Intelligence Agency. Feinstein knows that Americans are worried about domestic surveillance, and that the intelligence community has been under constant siege by all four branches of government (the press included) for the better part of a year. She knows, moreover, that the reporters who cover national security tend to see her as an adult who doesn't go off, half-cocked, on the CIA, an agency she generally supports and defends....  More»

 
March 14, 2014, at 10:25 AM

That young woman who took the selfie after her plane blew a tire and skidded off the runway? I identify. I'd do it too. I think we all would, assuming we didn't have other things to worry about, like injuries, or fellow human beings requiring aid and attention.

Why do we take so many selfies? Even we semi-sane, literate people, those of us who read books in our spare time? Well, selfies help us mark the moment in history, and help us remember. Selfies are experiential catalogs.

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad, vain, aggressive, competitive world. And we like the attention....  More»

 

It won't surprise researchers, journalists, and historians to know that almost half of federal agencies do not comply with a law requiring agencies to modernize their Freedom of Information Act policies, and that a majority are out of step with the policy voiced by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Nate Jones, the FOIA guru at the National Security Archives at George Washington University, along with archive director Tom Blanton and researcher Lauren Harper scrutinized the published and practiced FOIA policies at more than 100 federal agencies, and you can see who gets darts and laurels here....  More»

 

Charlie Cook, still the best congressional election prognosticator there is, has entered his biennial weatherman phase. When Cook speaks of an ill-wind blowing for a particular party, that party is usually in trouble.

Cyclical and seasonal forces are conspiring against Democrats, he writes. Cook identifies two: Since the House of Representatives is largely ideologically and geographically sorted out (and because that sorting favors Republicans), Democrats are overexposed, having done better than Republicans in 2012. In the Senate, as Cook notes, if a party did well six years ago, it is likely to have more chances to lose seats the next time those ...  More»

 
March 17, 2014, at 10:27 AM

This wasn't "the Big One" by anyone's reckoning. But for the first five seconds or so, this morning's jolting felt very familiar to Angelenos who lived through the magnitude 6.4 earthquake in 1994.

I wasn't one of them.

That's because this was my first real quake since moving to Los Angeles.

As they say on the TV news, it "rattled nerves."

My first thought was for my husband, who was downstairs.

Then I thought: "Earthquake."

Then my police scanner fell off my bedside table.

Then it stopped.

My building is new and steady, but a friend, just down the street, lives in a much older home....  More»

 

It's easy to make fun of CNN's round-the-clock coverage of the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. At times, the network has dipped into the realm of the absurd. (No, a black hole did not swallow the plane.) Generally, media critics look down their noses at CNN for deciding to monomaniacally follow the story, as if it were some sort of an affront to News, Inc.

But do critics really want us to go back to an earlier era in news coverage? Or are they simply being snobbish?

Of course, the news business, and its content provider, journalism, are always in some sort of crisis....  More»

 

Income inequality is at the root of most of America's major socioeconomic problems, truly the radioactive element that causes the body politic to decay. It's the motive force that kicks the president's agenda forward, and an issue around which the Democratic Party can unite.

Here, there are two forces acting against each other. One is shareholder capitalism, where immense political power is concentrated in the board rooms of the few; the other, right now, for lack of a better umbrella term, is President Obama's agenda.

What we're debating, essentially, is how much of a redistribution of wealth his policies really require to stabilize the lives of the...  More»

 

Not so long ago, the American labor movement faced a make or break moment. Facing internal dissension and a continuous hemorrhage of members and clout, it managed to elect a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress. Tilting federal labor laws back in favor of unions, and passing legislation that would allow so-called "card check" elections to establish them in workplaces, were vital. If not then, with that political configuration, then when?

Five years later, organized labor considers itself to be even worse off. Though a friendlier National Labor Relations Board has helped fix contract disputes, the economic recession slashed more than 600,000...  More»

 

One of the many pearls of wisdom that alcoholism recovery programs impart can be applied to the guys who caused the U.S. Secret Service's latest imbroglio. It's not that every time an agent drinks on the road, he has a problem. It's that, whenever there's an incident, it's usually because he's been drinking.

The Secret Service has a drinking problem. It's much worse than any other cultural deficit the elite agency has. It's more widespread than sexism, certainly, and the other isms that have been attached to the agency since the prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia....  More»

 

Airbnb and Uber are now essential parts of your low-cost business travel experience, and each company has attracted attention befitting its innovative services. Both have also attracted the ire of entrenched cartels (the taxi and hotel industries), of regulators (who must somehow justify their jobs), and governments (who want money). But the attention-to-ire ratio is moving in the right direction.

I sing the praises of both services, and it's dawned on me why I like them so much.

This afternoon, as I got out of an UberX Prius driven by W___, I found myself telling him how much I appreciate Uber....  More»

 

Even though President Obama ordered his national security cabinet to shift the locus of the drone wars from the Central Intelligence Agency to the military's Special Operations Command, the New York Times reported Sunday that, while the number of strikes has slowed to a trickle, the CIA plans to be in the drone business in Pakistan and Africa for quite a while.

The Times attributed the delay to institutional resistance in the CIA and to a recent series of counterterrorism operations that killed civilians, which increased doubts about the efficacy of the shift itself....  More»

 

Don't be surprised that Russian special forces and military intelligence are stirring up resistance in eastern Ukraine. When acute conflicts seem to simmer, Americans lull themselves into a false nap of security. It's false because Vladimir Putin's timeline is significantly longer than ours. We care about the Crimea, today, or what happens in Ukraine, tomorrow. Putin has the luxury of time; he cares what happens next year.

The "resistance" is artificial, of course. People power in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been generated more often than not by foreign governments that have their own agendas, and not by indigenous forces....  More»

 
April 8, 2014, at 2:32 PM

The U.S government today released a precise accounting of its strategic nuclear forces, something it is required to do by treaty, and it's worth a careful read.

The world now knows that, by February of 2018, the U.S. will have approximately 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles, down from 450; 240 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, down about 50; and 60 nuclear-capable heavy bomber fighters (B-2As and B-52Hs), converting 30 B-52s to a non-nuclear role.

Since most of the nuclear payloads contain multiple warheads, the U.S. must also disclose the number of strategic nuclear weapons it will maintain on an alert status....  More»

 

A few months ago, after nearly a decade of contentious litigation and with many conspiracy theories spawned, the Pentagon released the Holy Grail of Sept. 11th, 2001, documents: transcripts from the emergency conference calls initiated by the National Military Command Center.

For years, the government insisted that the entire conference was classified because the disclosure of any parts could be combined with existing public information to give adversaries a window into how the military responds during an acute crisis, as well as how the government's continuity of government programs work....  More»

 
April 10, 2014, at 8:00 PM

The USS George Washington, one of the Navy's 11 aircraft carriers, needs money for fuel. A gas card won't do. It takes several years to refuel an aircraft carrier, at a cost of more than $1 billion.

But the squeeze has real world consequences. Congress insists that the Navy keep 11 carriers afloat. Right now, budget forces are conspiring to kill at least one. And since the George Washington is supposed to begin its refueling cycle in 2016, the refueling costs are highly vulnerable to the budget cleaver.

The more the Navy delays the decision, the more expensive the refueling process becomes....  More»

 

Col. Miles Kara (Ret.), a highly credentialed member of the congressional joint commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks, is one of the most dogged and least ideological of those who believe that the ground truth of what happened that day has not been fully and faithfully disclosed to the public. In that sense, Kara wants the truth. But he is not a 9/11 Truther; he is not, so far as I can tell, an adherent to the discredited theories about who planned the attack, who carried it out, whether the U.S. government "allowed" the attacks to happen deliberately, or whether the attacks were a deliberate "false flag" operation to shock the world out of ...  More»

 

Funny question in the headline, yes?

But since President Obama worries more about the threat of terrorists' improvised nuclear device going off in a major American city than anything Russia can throw at us, I was wondering if the government had deigned to share with us citizens any tips for, you know, surviving something their own intelligence points to as the likeliest unlikely Black Swan event.

Well, no. And yes.

No — very few people in Washington, D.C., who work for the government have any idea what they would do if a 10-kiloton nuclear device exploded at the intersection of 16th and K streets....  More»

 

Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, friend to the president, and member of his intelligence policy review committee, writes in The Daily Beast today that Congress should enshrine some sort of special protection into law for the reporter-source relationship. It is an essential element of democracy, he says. And we tend to protect essential instruments, particularly those (like the lawyer-client relationship and marriage) which reflect and strengthen fundamental values.

The press professionalized in the early 19th century, fighting against consolidated corporate power and consciously assuming the role of watchdogging the expanding...  More»

 
April 24, 2014, at 8:31 PM

In the realm of fixing inequities in the immigration system, President Obama's use of the executive branch instruction has been the most powerful.

And on the anniversary of one of those declarations — which established a procedure for hundreds of thousands of children of undocumented immigrants to work and live without fear of deportation — the administration is considering a series of new steps.

Some of these are small; others would have considerable effects on the system. Because the efforts to pass a more comprehensive bill are still alive in the House of Representatives, any action that considerably shifts the optics of the debate...  More»

 

Liberals have finally cracked the nut of inequality. They've managed to write books about social justice and corporate corruption that large audiences want to read. Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose Capital in the 21st Century has sold about 40,000 copies to date, the largest haul in Harvard University Press' history, is a la mode right now. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) is already a best-seller. And Michael Lewis' latest narrative story about how fat cats manipulate the technological neutrality of Wall Street to game the system — well, that makes three, and three is a trend....  More»

 

Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has a long racial rap sheet. It has not been hidden.

Just five years ago, Elgin Baylor, an NBA legend and former Clippers GM, testified to Sterling's plantation owner mentality.

And in 2003, Sterling settled with the Justice Department (it was the largest settlement offer ever!) over complaints that he discriminated against black and Latino tenants at buildings around Los Angeles. The details are incredible.

According to one former property manager, Sterling was obsessed with how black people smell (apparently, they smell bad to him) and thought they clashed with the image he was "cultivating....  More»

 
April 28, 2014, at 10:55 AM

It's hard for something to become the most sensational story in Hollywood, just because there is so much competition. But money usually separates the sordid from the serious. There are allegations of rape against one of Hollywood's most talented directors, Bryan Singer, and they've come out at a moment that could cost the studio that financed his latest film several hundred million dollars.

If the story is true, then the timing matters very little in the moral universe. I have no idea whether Michael Egan's allegations are valid, or whether they approximate a larger truth....  More»

 

Of all the defenses of Donald Sterling circulating, and surprisingly, there are many, one interests me the most. It's that Sterling is being held to a different standard for his racist remarks. Liberals who have said things just as bad will never come under the same degree of scrutiny that Sterling's remarks have subjected him to. Larry Elder, a popular radio host here in Los Angeles, complained today that director Spike Lee, the court-side presence at New York Knicks games, has said stupid, crazy, and weird things, even racially polarizing things, and never gets taken to account for it....  More»

 
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