September 10, 2013, at 2:50 PM

Speaking at the Center for American Progress this morning, National Security Adviser Susan Rice encapsulated the Obama administration's transitive theory of Syria strikes in a single sentence:...  More»

September 10, 2013, at 3:17 PM

When the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is your biggest dove, and a man who made his reputation by protesting unnecessary wars becomes your biggest hawk, it's safe to say the military action you intend to pursue is not an easy call. And boy, were mistakes ever made! Since blunder-listing is en vogue, though, maybe it's time to list the blunders that those reveling in President Obama's blunders might themselves make about the way forward.

1. Assuming that a chastened Obama will be less inclined to facilitate or directly participate in a strike against Iran if Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons. The opposite is probably the case. The White House may over-learn from Syria, and simply commence military actions when its real red lines are crossed....  More»


1. "100,000 people have been killed, and millions have fled the country. I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else's civil wars with wars."

2. "That abruptly changed on August 21. Assad's government gassed to death over 1,000 people."

3. "Chemical weapons are different."

4. "No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria.... We know the Assad regime was responsible. We know that Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mixed sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops."

5. "When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until the pictures fade from memory. These things happened. The question now is: What will the U.S. and the international community [be] prepared to do about it?...  More»


That sound you just heard is a whole warren of bleeding hearts exsanguinating. Every relationship hits a rough patch, but the bond between President Obama and a certain breed of liberal intellectuals — think pragmatic, explanatory, unsure of all the answers themselves — has been unbreakable. Sure, these analysts have criticized Obama in the past, but it was in the spirit of good-natured and helpful chiding. And their assistance in explaining Obama's health care plan better than he could was invaluable in convincing some Democrats to support it....  More»

September 12, 2013, at 12:56 AM

Lest anyone get the impression that the National Security Agency has time to do anything but aggressively violate Americans' rights, the Guardian fronted a story about a draft memorandum of understanding between the NSA and Israel's signals intelligence agency. Notwithstanding the context, or a close reading of what the MOU actually permits, which you can read about here, the story is useful because it points to one of the reasons why the NSA has a lot of trouble figuring out just what the hell it is doing with all of its nodes and devices and satellites and fiber lines and servers.

With every NSA document dump, as Benjamin Wittes points out, you can read it as a case of an agency struggling with technological problems, identifying its own mistakes, conceding them, and rectifying them — or evidence of a continued, deliberate, unquenchable ...  More»

September 15, 2013, at 5:26 PM

It's too early to say for sure why Larry Summers decided to take himself off President Obama's list of possible contenders for Fed chair. He seems to have cut some sort of implicit deal with Obama years ago: He'd take a position that was beneath him, and when Ben Bernanke's term was up, Summers would easily be nominated. And not without warrant: Summers has all the right credentials.

It turns out that history has saddled with him several of the wrong credentials, too. Over time, and not too fairly, he's been blamed by a lot of powerful people for tilting Obama recovery plan toward the financial sector, and for fighting other appointments of more liberally...  More»

September 15, 2013, at 8:59 PM

Here is my second iteration of the National Security Agency's organization chart, which is now as up to date as possible, and includes a significant number of additions. I have also tried to organize the names of NSA databases and tools by function, and you can see the flow of where data comes from, what is, and can be, done with it once it resides inside the NSA's brain. I am not a visual artist, and I am certain that one of you can make this chart sing and shine in a way that I cannot.

(Click on the image below to see a larger version.)

You can find the first version at Defense One, a publication of National Journal.

September 19, 2013, at 1:32 PM

Gun violence in America confounds me, even though I am sure of many things:

I am sure that there are too many guns, and also that there is no way to get rid of them.

It's obvious that guns, and their availability, play a huge role in routine gun violence, which is less shocking but more prevalent and destructive than mass shootings.

I am sure that most people with mental health issues can hold a security clearance and be functional and trusted to perform key jobs.

I am certain that the vast majority of people with schizophrenia will not resort to gun violence....  More»

September 22, 2013, at 2:50 PM

Seems like everyone has found the SAME "Top 10 hidden iOS7 features" already, so they're not really all that hidden anymore. Here are MY favorite semi-hidden features — ones that I find useful.

1. Turn Siri into an English butler. Ask him to "Call Josh," and he'll respond, "Ringing Josh." His confused responses to your silly questions seem downright charming. General --> Siri --> Language --> ENGLISH (UNITED KINGDOM).

2. A special sub-tip: Siri can now read you any bit of text you select. Accessibility --> Speak Selection --> (On), Voices --> Select. And choose the speed, too. Then, when you select text, you move the black bar to the left until you see the "Speak" selection.

3. Want a more Android-like interface? Though it's possible to adjust the size of the default font (Accessibility --> Larger Type), you can also invert...  More»

September 22, 2013, at 3:21 PM

I try to make my posts class-neutral, but let's be real: The release of a brand-new iPhone is an event that would make Thorstein Veblen roll in his gilded, flashy, conspicuous grave. The 5s is a very nice phone, but it contains no features that will immediately change your life, or make your work experience that much more efficient, or enhance your social status beyond that temporary, "Wow, so that's what a gold one looks like; can I try the fingerprint sensor?" If you need a new phone, then by all means, the 5s is a wonder of engineering and design and you should get one....  More»

September 23, 2013, at 9:28 AM

Human begins make decisions in ways that remain opaque to economists and psychologists. As a sometime participant in public arguments about important issues, I know how easy it is to rig the debate by employing particularly effective tactics that don't often correspond to the facts at hand. To debate is to interpret, of course, but good arguments often stand by themselves without the need to use maneuvers that are designed to elicit strong emotional responses. Here are five cards I find to be particularly interesting. A few of them, I think, can be destructive....  More»

September 26, 2013, at 11:57 PM

Courtesy of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), we now have a glimpse at what may be the next set of National Security Agency documents to drop from the Guardian and Washington Post. At a Senate hearing today, Wyden asked NSA Director Keith Alexander about the agency's collection of American cellphone geolocation data.

Under the formerly secret interpretations of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the NSA had the legal authority to collect "telephony metadata" without an individualized order or warrant on everyone. (It now needs a certification of purpose, basically, from the FISA Court....  More»

September 27, 2013, at 12:33 AM

If only.

If only that contractor, United States Investigation Service, had not been rushed to complete its re-investigation of Edward Snowden, then his aberrant intentions would have been divined, and maybe he would not have been able to work at the NSA for the purposes of helping to implode it.

Be very wary of arguments like these. They're almost too easy to believe.

It may be straw-manning to say that the system works 99.9 percent of time, but is it not straw-manning to ask whether any other system, with trade-offs, would work better.

If actual federal agents had to do ALL of the security clearance investigations, they would do a lot less federal agenting and a lot more spying/investigating/harassing Americans about other Americans.

Okay, so hire more government employees to vet government employees....  More»


Sure, it's easy to be against poverty, for safe sex, against war, for clean water, against Miley Cyrus, for Liam Hemsworth. Some causes are as easy to support as they are important to promote. Liberal or conservative, here are four unorthodox causes you might want to get behind.

1. Empower the fast food industry to fight obesity.
They know how to make food that people will like and eat. They are under pressure to do something about their contribution to the obesity epidemic. They are not going to go away. They will not be regulated out of existence. It is very hard to convince someone to willingly change their diet. It is impossible (or almost impossible) for an obese person to reset his or her body back to "skinny" save for surgery or extreme alternations to their way of life....  More»


The New York Times' first fruits from its collaboration with the Edward Snowden archive shows us how the National Security Agency figures out whether people who associate with terrorists are part of a plot or conspiracy.

Headline: "N.S.A Gathers Data on Social Connections Of U.S. Citizens"

Significance: This is the "how" of "contact chaining." Our apocryphal terrorist bad guy in Yemen calls my number, 310-555-3939 in California. The NSA and the FBI then use the database of phone records to see who I've called recently, and who the people that I've called have called. If the numbers match those on a watch list, then the FBI will open an investigation. This article tells us what happens to the OTHER numbers that the NSA has run through its system.

Key point: The NSA can utilize its contact chaining database and perform subsequent analysis on phone numbers...  More»


Vali Nasr, a John Hopkins University dean and former senior adviser at the State Department, wrote a very critical appraisal of President Obama's Middle East policy last year: basically, he had none. He was inclined to let the region simmer, and even to ignore what appeared to be overtures from Iran to begin to settle its nuclear problem. America would not be indispensable unless the president actively made it so. Nasr's critique carried over to countries like Pakistan, and to the Arab Spring, where the U.S. would step in reluctantly...and then pull out, once a mess had been made.

What Obama's brain trust would tell you, or me, at the time, was that (a) it is absolutely a goal, a feature, of Obama's broader foreign policy to force other regional actors to take much more active roles in settling conflicts, (b) the less "American" a movement was,...  More»


Tea-party affiliated House Republicans are not the cause of what ails the Congress right now. Don't blame them if the government shuts down, or even if the government moves toward default.

Assuming that the reasonable way forward for opponents of ObamaCare is to try and fix the program's flaws legislatively — and that is a reasonable way forward for legislation that has been passed, ratified by the Supreme Court, subject to regulation and about to be implemented — there is one person who stands in the way of the House voting on a reasonable budget....  More»


The "active shooter" situation that wasn't paralyzed downtown Washington today, and as of this writing, there are still heightened security measures in place. The panicked reaction to reports of what happened began after the incident itself was resolved; the suspect apparently had been killed, and a police officer was being tended to, and those on the scene did not find any reason to believe that more people were involved.

On CNN, anchors raised questions about security measures, and whether they were up to the task of protecting the U.S. government....  More»


Special agents of the U.S. Secret Service protect the president and his family. But responsibility for securing the White House itself falls to a branch of the service known as the Uniformed Division, consisting of 1,300-plus sworn police officers and technicians. While agents and their exploits are glamorized and the subject of fictional thrillers and films, the U.D. officers often have a more dangerous job.

They're the ones who establish and control the outer perimeters around the White House. They're in direct contact with the public; they're responsible for screening White House visitors and preventing harmful people from even getting close to...  More»

October 7, 2013, at 9:03 PM

I have few qualms with Ezra Klein's 13 reasons why government is failing piece, but I think his main point needs to be modified. Government is failing, he writes. I would add that it is purposely failing. It is operating precisely as a plurality of political conservatives want it to. The government is executing policies designed to reduce confidence in itself. The shutdown is not a consequence of a broken system. It is a consequence of a system that incentivizes particular outcomes over majority ones, rules that empower political minorities, and of the political and social needs of the humans who inhabit it....  More»

October 9, 2013, at 9:11 PM

The Street still thinks this will end peacefully. The Street — you know, Wall Street, where money flows, where collective wisdom incorporates all there is to know every nanosecond, where expectations are often more important than reality.

This is, of course, the great hostage taking of 2013, where the full faith and credit of the United States is being held ransom by people who got elected as Republicans, but see themselves more as conservatives.

"How is this going end?"

The easiest scenario is still the one where Boehner folds and goes home. This suggests an end time of around 11:59 p....  More»

October 9, 2013, at 9:40 PM

With some exceptions, the media has decided that it is well and good to frame the government shutdown as a hostage situation perpetuated by a small band of Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

But is that what's really going on here?

There are surface similarities. In a hostage scenario, a small band of thugs threaten to harm people unless they get their way. Yes, that is the negotiating tactic Republicans are using. Give us what we want, and then we will release the government back to you.

But what's happening in Washington is not a hostage situation....  More»

October 13, 2013, at 7:00 PM

The 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination has occasioned a glut of new non-fiction. At the bookstore yesterday, I counted a dozen new titles, and we're still a month out. JFK books sell, so much so that respectable publishing houses are quite content to market ludicrous conspiracy theories. The lingering specter of a grand plot to kill the president is one reason why the assassination continues to haunt the public memory. The enigmatic nature of JFK was another.

How can a man who produced so much primary source material for historians, including private diary recordings, hundreds of interviews, and several of his own works of literature still be so unknown as an embodied political figure that serious historians continue to debate whether he was, fundamentally, a liberal or a conservative for his age?...  More»


If Your American Government were directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the opening image would be of an empty road, full of cans, with shoe-dents in them.

Until the next crisis, if there is a next crisis, the Republican Party will attempt to regroup, ObamaCare will live (hopefully as something other than a software glitch), and we can all get pack to pondering the computer collapse that led to the first-ever blown deadline for South Park.

Here are five things you might want to remember, five things that were not necessarily evident even if this ending — a last-minute compromise — was:

1. The Democrats didn't buckle. This is a party so fond of conceding that it went into the negotiations assuming that it would not hold together. And yet, the party stuck together, even though many Democrats live in districts where "ObamaCare" is unpopular (although...  More»


The Guardian has been silent for a while, but into the breach stepped the Washington Post with two new stories based on items selected from the Edward Snowden collection, which, I understand, still does not feature ties or outerware.

Headlines: Documents Reveal NSA's Extensive Involvement in Targeted Killing Program and NSA Collects Millions of E-mail Address Books Globebally

Significance: Hard to say. The "targeted killing program" referred to in the headline is a policy that the entire intelligence community collaborates on. It would be quite unusual if the CIA used another agency to gather signals intelligence on its targets. From previous reporting, we know how closely the NSA and the CIA collaborate on just about everything else. Of interest, though, is the way the NSA helped: targeted cyber penetrations are a very rich source of counter-terrorism...  More»


It started with an article on by Jay Newton Small, "In Shutdown, Women are the Only Adults Left." There are 20 women in the Senate, the most ever, and during the government shutdown, their floor speeches were somewhat less partisan and more "Can't-We-Just." Several women rights' groups, like EMILY's List, picked up the story for use in fundraising.

The Can't We Just speech is very easy to give. First, note how Americans mistrust their government. Then, assert that Americans dislike partisanship. Then, give an example of how you've worked with someone from across the aisle before. Finally, ask why "can't we just" set aside partisan differences and work towards a common goal and agree to disagree and be civil, among other content-free formulations....  More»

October 20, 2013, at 8:35 PM

Do leaks of classified information damage national security in tangible, meaningful ways? Probably, yes. Even the leakers must admit that they cannot entirely foresee the consequences of making public the methods and technology marshaled to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Edward Snowden may be a genius, but one practical reason why leaking classified information is illegal is because the judgment of one person cannot possibly be submitted for the judgment of others, particularly those who have access to more of the big picture in a highly compartmentalized system....  More»


The Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, has three central functional goals: Allow tens of millions more Americans to purchase private health insurance; expand Medicaid's coverage of the poor; and slow or temper the growth of health care costs over the long term by more equitably distributing the financial burden and by tinkering with the incentives that have evolved along with the current system.

The glitchy website places none of these three goals in jeopardy. If you don't now have health insurance, then you still don't have health insurance. Your life is pretty much status quo ante....  More»


For the GOP, Chris Christie is on the leading edge of politics, the most broadly acceptable captain of a change movement that the Republican Party can embrace. That makes him the de facto leader of red state America, even if it's not willing to accept him just yet.

One of my favorite axioms of presidential politics is that the times choose the (wo)man; the (wo)man does not choose the times. In change elections, a solid mass of voters tend to side with history, and they often choose the candidate whose personal qualities least remind them of what they're voting against....  More»


The author of the @natsecwonk Twitter account, a gossipy, often invective-laced anonymous Washington beat sheet, could have been a thousand people. The bio line: "A keen observer of of the foreign policy and national security scene. I'm abrasive and bring the snark. Unapologetically says what everyone else only thinks."

Maybe it was a journalist who covered the State Department, or a low-level contractor, or a disgruntled junior researcher at a think tank. It could even have been me (and one of its targets thought it was, for awhile).

Turns out it was someone who really was in a position to dish....  More»

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