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Here is something you probably don't know about illegal immigrants in the United States. There aren't any. Zero. The term, on its face, is willfully misleading.

It is not a crime to emigrate to the United States without a visa. The punishment for overstaying a visa, or for having been discovered in the United States without a visa, is not a criminal penalty. It is a civil remedy; an administrative sanction. That's because the executive branch has the primary right to decide who gets to stay here and who doesn't. So the phrase "undocumented immigrant" is not a politically correct, less-than-harsh way of referring to what are commonly called "illegal immigrants....  More»

 

If it seems like Edward Snowden and the reporters who have access to his archive have given away the farm, think again.

The Office of National Director Intelligence has released, because of a FOIA request, its latest controlled access program classification marking guide. If you're not a complete geek, if you have a life and a job, then this document ought to be of no significance to you whatsoever. But the digraphs, trigraphs, dashes, and slashes that formalize the level classification of a piece of information can tell us quite a bit about the large acres of black redactions beneath them....  More»

 
May 4, 2014, at 2:58 PM

A tubular error of some sort ate about 1,200 words worth of Compass yesterday, rendering a post I'd written about foam rolling fairly useless. Just like foam rollers!

Rather than reconstructing the whole thing, I thought I'd give readers the summary of my argument, along with links to studies and commentary by those who know the subject better.

I use foam-rollers. Everyone at my gym does, because the trainers swear by it, and because there is something seemingly magical about a how a basic foam log can "release fascia" and "elongate muscles" and "prime the body" for working out....  More»

 

Benghazi, as Adam Gopnik once wrote, was a tragedy in search of a scandal. Not able to find a scandal or a smoking gun — the closest being an email from the strategic communications deputy on the National Security Council advising Susan Rice on how to strategically communicate about Benghazi — Republicans have created one. They've bought the guns, fired them, noticed the smoke, and then yelled, "Smoke!" And lo, with the announcement that Speaker John Boehner plans to appoint a "select committee" to probe Benghazi, an entire arsenal of arms is being set up and ready to fire....  More»

 

Occasionally, I'll respond to reader questions and complaints. Two posts of mine attracted some attention, and they call for some amplification.

Thora writes:...  More»

 

As we approach the one year anniversary of the first set of Edward Snowden leaks, a reporter asked me what Americans have learned about the National Security Agency. My first take at answering that question is to reframe it slightly. Americans might think they know a lot about the NSA now, but the difference between what the public thinks it knows, and what it should know, based on the disclosures, is rather large.

1. The appetite for domestic collection increased significantly after Sept. 11, both as a a cause of and a response to the Big Bang-like expansion of the national security state....  More»

 
May 12, 2014, at 4:45 PM

A provocative Washington Post article this morning highlights the effect of long-term unemployment on the waistlines of job-seekers. From a calories in, calories out perspective, this correlation would seem to be so obvious that it might not deserve the newspaper column inches devoted to it. If you work, you're working, and you're burning calories. If you don't work, you're probably more sedentary, and you're burning fewer calories. Ergo, your weight increases.

This explanation also fits nicely with preconceptions we have about fat people. They are lazier, we think, simply unwilling to motivate themselves to move more....  More»

 

No Place To Hide is an exceptionally interesting book, although it doesn't have as much to say about the National Security Agency as I had hoped. It does distill the Glenn Greenwald phenomenon down to the essence of the man himself.

To put it frankly: he does not care if you find him to be a narcissist, a dogmatist, or even self-unaware. He is self-consciously the hero of his own story. If you agree with Greenwald's basic premises about the functions and ambit of the national security state, about the state of journalism, and about the moral corruption of politics, then he deserves to be called whatever he wants to be called....  More»

 

Before Edward Snowden and what intelligence community denizens like to call the "recent unpleasantness," the U.S. government had a plan to deal with Chinese cyber-hacking. Fittingly, it was a secret plan, coordinated by the Department of Justice, the National Security Agency, the FBI, and the National Security Staff at the White House. Chinese cyber espionage had gotten so out of hand, per the premise of the plan, that only radical measures would suffice.

Cyber-hack them back? Nope. Shame them. Shame China. Here's something I wrote last year:...  More»

 
May 19, 2014, at 4:05 PM

The BMW 328d is a pretty damn nice car, the most popular diesel sedan exported by the German auto maker, in fact. It handles beautifully, accelerates quickly — it booms — and, most attractively, it has a better fuel economy than many hybrids: 45 mpg on highways. That's the selling point. BMW is marketing the vehicle as a lower-cost hybrid alternative — a money-saving vehicle, rather than a vehicle that will help save the environment. You'll save thousands on gas. The hybrid versus diesel wars have begun.

In Europe, there are several different diesel variants of the BMW 3 series — BMW offers the 320d and the 325d....  More»

 

This weekend, as I read competing accounts about the sacking of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the The New York Times, I wondered what would happen if Times headline writers had no compunction about going full Timesian on the saga taking place within its own newsroom....

After a Meeting, A Wall Is Punched

A Gothic Tattoo, On Back, Seen as Symbol of Dedication

Baquet Said to be Low-key, Patient, Black

Person In The News: Dean Bacquet, a Manager Who Would Not Edit His Outrage

Person In The News: Mark Thompson, BBC's Savior, Turned to Times Sacred Cows

Recriminations, as Partial Salary Figures Leak

A Correction Is Demanded from Auletta, His Magazine

The...  More»

 

Before you can pay for that rhinestone-studded leather pair of shorts at Kitson, a high-end celebrity-chic retailer based in Beverly Hills, you must get over the following fright. "PROPOSITION 65 WARNING: Warning: This establishment may carry products which contain chemicals known to the state of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm."

Holy crap! Kitson causes cancer? Like smoking?

Not exactly. In fact, thanks to a conspiracy between overzealous activists and under-thinking voters, almost every business in California has a version of the Prop 65 warning sign somewhere on premises....  More»

 
May 21, 2014, at 6:36 PM

TIME's Joe Klein, whose mental heuristics about Washington closely match those of the president, has been warning about the Veterans Affairs catastrophe for years. Today he writes:...  More»

 

It's been a year since Edward Snowden first leaked his cache of documents to reporters. More than 1,500 pages of classified material about the National Security Agency's operations have been published, giving many of us a voyeuristic thrill and many others a very incomplete understanding of what the agency actually does. In a weird way, the public now knows a lot more about the NSA. What it thinks it knows about the NSA, however, doesn't exactly correspond with reality.

(Click here to see the full chart.)

That's one consequence of selectively releasing classified documents....  More»

 

Did you make your bed this morning?

If you did, says the country's special operations chief, you're on your way to success.

The commencement address that Adm. William McRaven, the SOCOM commander, Navy SEAL, and all-around bad-ass, gave to graduates at the University of Texas at Austin last week has gone viral. Here, for example, is what he said about making sure to make your bed every morning:...  More»

 

The serving chief of station for the CIA's massive Kabul base was outed this weekend, and ceremoniously so. As you've probably read by now, a White House press liaison traveling with President Obama on his secret trip to Afghanistan sent the designated pool reporter, Scott Wilson, a list of American officials Obama would be meeting with during the visit.

The list included the name of the CIA's chief of station, a serving undercover intelligence officer, along with his title, "Chief of Station."

It is not a felony to disclose the name of a serving CIA officer....  More»

 

Something about all of this is off.

Eliot Rodger's rampage through Isla Vista, California, reads as though it was cut out of a slasher film, and the moment his gunfire stopped echoing, those privileged enough to get paid to say or speak exploded with instant popular punditry.

So much of it is repetitive, derivative nonsense. But the nonsense was especially irritating to me. I'm one of those folks who gets paid to try and sort things out. I had nothing unique to write about the shooting, and so I chose not to. I wanted to wait, and read, and see. I'm not superior to those with instant opinions....  More»

 

What happened at West Point today?

Either Barack Obama gave a revolutionary anti-war speech that is — in Ezra Klein's rare use of the adjective to describe his reporter Max Fisher's take on it — "big."

Or it was same old, same old.

It was an answer to a question posed by those who think that Obama is aimless and that his foreign policy is formless. Even though there haven't been any huge disasters on his watch and he can claim credit for ending America's part in two wars, the tone of it has just been, kinda, off. Kinda, just everywhere. Not really inspirational....  More»

 
May 28, 2014, at 8:50 PM

Readers of Elliot Rodger's manifesto have found much that explains to their minds his descent into misogyny and madness. Several themes overwhelm repeatedly: his sense of entitlement, his sexual frustration and his obsession with the psychology of pretty women. Since he is a murderer, we owe him no sympathy for his crushing depression. But it might be wise to take a look at what he wrote about the way he thought as he tried to grip the sides, having so often fallen into deep holes. I noticed a few things that defy the stereotype of the lonesome loser....  More»

 

Kurt Eichenwald, who wrote in 2007 about many of the National Security Agency programs that Edward Snowden's documents have described over the past year, has a series of 16 skeptical questions for the former NSA-CIA analyst that NBC News did not get around to asking. Some get to Snowden's motives. I have a few more questions that I'd like to see him answer. They are critical, in the sense that they presume that every action he took or decided not to take has consequences, all either foreseen or sensibly inferred. (If asking these questions makes you pitifully obeisant to Barack Obama or the NSA, then I plead guilty — but not without first ...  More»

 

There are no bones about it: In trading five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, President Obama willfully broke a law. And this wasn't an old law, or a law that was passed before he became president. It was his law — or more accurately, successive versions of the military budget bill called the National Defense Authorization Act.

Now, Obama did not like the provision that required him to give Congress 30 days of notice before transferring detainees out of Guantanamo. And in a signing statement, he said as much: The executive branch's ability to defend the country shouldn't be constrained by the notification period....  More»

 

If Afghanistan's president asked the United States to keep a contingent of counter-terrorism forces in the country after 2016, what, Christiane Amanpour wanted to know, would Hillary Clinton do? Would she say yes? Would she say no?

Some of you might be able to answer the question without qualification. It's a gut call.

Not for Clinton.

It would depend, she said, on what was happening in 2016: Whether the president of Afghanistan was doing as much as he could to build enduring political institutions and whether the government was effectively training and professionalizing Afghan's security forces....  More»

 

Amongst the new trove of classified documents released by Der Speigel is a rather academic discussion, in the NSA's own foreign affairs journal, about the differences between American signals intelligence collection and German signals intelligence collection.

One passage in particular stands out, as it highlights how the Germans give far more weight to privacy than the NSA does.

For the Germans, "...spam filters are used to process large data volumes. Selected traffic is passed through an automated privacy protection system, ensuring analysts cannot view German protected traffic....  More»

 

The world, President Obama and other presidents have noted, is a very complicated place. And Congress tends to see things in black and white. This is one reason why the administration really doesn't need Congress to mess around with sanctions against Iran when they're trying to forge a nuclear agreement, one that will inevitably come together, if it ever does, after fits and starts. Aside from the budget and treaties, Congress has little power to influence the direction of United States foreign policy.

So when they try to, it's often an occasion to take a closer look....  More»

 

I don't think Sen. Thad Cochran's astounding demographic coalition in Mississippi will prove a once-in-a-red-moon phenomenon for Republicans. I also don't think it suddenly represents a turning point for the monochromatic elephants on a national scale. Instead, it's an election that follows an axiom: If you give people a real reason to vote for you, if the stars align, they might actually vote for you.

Thad Cochran's campaign knew, from polling and from, well, the air outside, that Chris McDaniel seemed like a good ol' boy. Kind of a reconstructed racist who is proud of himself for insisting he is not racist....  More»

 

Lost in the commotion over ISIS's invasion of Sunni territories in Iraq: the other theater of war, Afghanistan, has seen an upsurge of violence against NATO troops. It is the summer now, but the annual Taliban "spring offensive" continues, with fierce fighting in the Helmand province.

Yesterday, a NATO soldier died in an as-yet-unspecified combat incident.

On June 20, three Marines from Camp LeJeune — one just 19 years old — died in combat in Helmand province.

A week before, five special operations forces soldiers operating in Zabul province died during a friendly fire incident; air support they ordered to help them escape misidentified...  More»

 

Here is the most popular argument for why the U.S. should stay out of Iraq, once and for all:

What in the world are we doing over there in the first place? ISIS's advance is the fault of a weak Prime Minister, and the war they're fighting is really a war about religion, resource control, and respect, the same wars that festered for centuries, with little bearing on the safety of Americans in the region and posing no threat to the homeland. The most vital American interest: Iraq's oil supply. The second most vital: assuaging guilt, because we're kind of at fault for igniting the war in the first place, having invaded a sovereign country because the ...  More»

 

I like soccer plenty, but it took me a while to get diving: Why it works so well, why it's so tolerated, and why even when the best players in the world, like Ronaldo, are famous floppers.

There are floppers in every sport. But flopping in soccer has reached pro-wrestling proportions.

So: a player wants to work the ref. Refs will give free kicks to players who have been tripped, or otherwise physically fouled. There's only one ref. It makes sense, if diving is tolerated, for players to dive in just about every circumstance imaginable. No instant replay....  More»

 

Contradicting just about every other intelligence official known to man, the new head of the National Security Agency, Michael S. Rogers, assesses the damage caused by the Edward Snowden leaks as "manageable."

He told The New York Times' David Sanger that while he had seen evidence that terrorists had discussed the NSA methods revealed by Snowden, "You have not heard me as the director say, 'Oh my God, the sky is falling.' I am trying to be very specific and very measured in my characterization."

This is a good thing to hear from the head of the NSA. It suggests to me that he is less enamored by the power of secrecy than many others in the intelligence...  More»

 

Hong Kong residents are up in arms about China. And in the past few days, they've staged the biggest pro-democracy demonstrations Asia has seen since the end of the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Almost 800,000 people have joined the protests.

Things have long been uneasy since China took over Hong Kong from the British. China had promised a "one country, two systems" approach to Hong Kong — but it has never been that simple.

The pro-democracy protest group Occupy Central staged an unofficial referendum last month. The questions: Should the chief executive of Hong Kong be elected directly?...  More»

 
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